Sensory Deprivation and Cycling! | 20-260317

Beauty and the Beast. So many good things coming together in the newest Disney production – my favourite fairytale (lonely bookworm dreams of more than her provincial life; enchanted displays of humor, friendship, sacrifice and loyalty), the live-action/CGI-driven remake of my favourite ’90s Disney animation, a catchy theme song and Hermione/the good fairy who leaves books around the London tube and NYC subway as Belle. With a pair of friends and a bag of dried white mulberries, I curl up in a cinema seat to watch it after work on Wednesday. Although I agree with my favourite film-critic’s rather mellow review, I still had a really good time in the darkness, laughing, crying and dreaming with my friends. We all have stars in our eyes upon leaving, commenting on how well Emma did, how well-made Gaston was and how much we want to go straight home and watch the cartoon version. Rather than actually doing that when we get to the luxurious condo where one of the girls lives, we opt for sticking our feet in the pool and sharing a bottle of red wine in the leafy garden. Chat and laugh about nothing and everything until we start yawning and hug each other goodbye in that fairytale-like endless summer night.

PS Catch Up. The following evening, I meet my former flatmate for chicken sous vide, salad and a chat at PS Petit in Tiong Bahru. She just got back from what sounds like a dreamy trip to Margaret River, a mere 4-hours flight from Singapore, a veritable cornucopia of wineries, gourmet food and beautiful beaches. Must go sometime! For now, though, I’m childlike excited about my first trip Down Under, to Byron Bay, Melbourne and Sydney. S is leaving for Brisbane on Monday, and will then pick me up in Gold Coast on Friday to go spend the weekend in Byron, before heading to Melbourne next Monday, where I’ll be working from as many different cafes as possible, and finally we’ll spend the week leading up to Easter in Sydney, where I’ll work from my company’s regional office. It being his 13th worktrip to Australia (in less than 3 years), S is looking forward to showing me all of his favourite places there and having company on his trip, while I have butterflies in my stomach about going to a new continent – a country I’d never thought I’d be brave enough to travel all the way ‘down’ to. Back to PS… Before moving to Singapore, my dinner date spent a decade in Sydney, so between chewing tender mouthfuls of chicken, she’s boosting my excitement with recommendations for food, coffee, running routes and yoga studios, her eyes shining with love and enthusiasm as more and more gems pop into mind. It’s great seeing her – it’s been a while – we’ll make an effort to hang out more between our frequent travels. I didn’t know her before I moved here last year; only contacted her because she’d posted an ad for a vacant bedroom on Facebook, and I immediately liked her, and the look and feel of the flat, when we chatted on Skype. After that initial call, something happened in London to make me doubt whether to move at all, and her kind and patient words, indicating that the move might be a welcome new start, that she and her boyfriend would take good care of me and that they would keep the room for my while I was making up my mind, made up a big part of my final decision. Well, I guess all kinds of stars were aligning, but it definitely meant a lot to know that I’d have a loving home. The night I arrived, she showed me around the neighbourhood and we went to buy a bottle of wine right here at PS, while her boyfriend was cooking us dinner at home. Tonight, after dinner, we walk home together – I only moved around the corner when I finally left their nest. S is hanging out in the dining room with our flatmate, who is making herself at home here until she’s moving to London in a few weeks. And so the expat wheels keep turning…

Mornings! Blissful early moments. This week, four of the days start with long, solitary, quick and energetic jogs along the river, twice at 7am and twice a few hours later, with the light and temperature intensifying markedly from the early to the later sessions. My friend who runs an NGO educating and generally supporting children from begging communities in Tamil Nadu, has invited me to run a marathon with him, his team and other sponsors in Chennai in September. Other than the race, the trip will include a visit to the education projects and the opportunity to meet the children (I sponsor a sweet little girl), a tour of the communities and their development projects, group yoga, communal meals and a beach visit. Ever since I did the Copenhagen marathon with my uncle in 2014, I’ve known that I’ll run a marathon again sometime, to improve my time (it was 4 hours and 4 minutes; I want to eliminate those annoying 4 minutes!), enjoy it more (free from the anxious fear that I won’t be able to finish) and, most importantly, support a meaningful case – while the Copenhagen one was all about quality time with my mum’s brother who has been a running maniac for decades. I don’t normally do races; what I love most about running is what I experience this week – complete physical and mental wellness while waking up in beautiful surroundings. But… as damaging as it is to trot along nonstop for 4 hours, as alluring is also the idea of challenging myself physically and feeling the rush of achieving something with a team. Anyway, what I wanted to say was, I’ve started to train for something rather than just to maintain a general sense of wellbeing. As such, my morning runs gradually get longer and longer, with an increased focus on my posture, breath and rhythm. I mix it up with some hot core yoga at Yoga Movement with S and our friend one morning and paced walks to work. On Friday, I have a morning coffee meeting with my friend who’s busy with the last touches to her Singapore guidebook, and come home to a homemade acai bowl and turmeric latte, which S and I enjoy while listening to the Crate and Barrel episode of How I Built This, one of my favourite podcasts, before I wander off towards the office in a hot rain shower. On Saturday, after my run, I bake a loaf of rye bread and serve warm, crunchy, most pieces of it with thin slices of avocado drizzled with cumin and lemon juice. On the side, there’s wobbly overnight chia pudding. We do some Australia planning while we eat, and then we walk down to newly opened Crackerjack, a hipster picture perfectly decorated (terrazzo bar counter, beautiful wooden chairs, shiny concrete floor, beehive-patterned copper bar shelves and kitchen elements, vibrant pop art pieces on the walls, enamel cups and plates) all-in-one space, with great artisanal coffee, great craft cocktails, great food, great music, fast wifi and a great ambiance – open kitchen, comfy furniture, a wall full of windows facing the quaint Duxton area. Here we take a seat in a pair of indigo blue leather recliners by the window and do some reading while sipping tasty v60 coffee (me) and flat whites (S). Sunday, after my run, we walk down to Kith for a green brunch followed by a wander around enchantingly pretty Blair Road and a coffee at Strangers’ Reunion. I’ve come to quite enjoy our little walks across the no man’s land between TB and Tanjong Pagar, an un-idyllic stretch of never-ending construction work and MRT station entrances, signs for the mortuary and blood donor bank, bleak-eyed people waiting at the busstops. Walking here creates a sense of suspension between the über-idyllic areas at either end of the stretch… so we tell each other… on Friday night and Saturday night and Saturday morning and Sunday morning…

Kimchi Kimbap. On Friday, we have a Chicken Up cooking class at work, learning from  passionate Korean cooks how to whip up their country’s counterpart to sushi. Something I really like is that whereas sushi rice is full of sugar, you just knead your plain steamed jasmine rice with a bit of sesame oil, sesame seeds and salt to make kimbap. For our version, we roll the smooth rice mass and seaweed paper around handfuls of grated stir-fried carrot, grated raw cucumber, fried egg, strips of pickled radish and burdock as well as generous amounts of ready-made crunchy, tangy kimchi. Yum! Conveniently, the class is just around lunch time, so we tuck happily into the delicious rolls in the conference room/makeshift kitchen.


Stages of Friday Night. An hour of butterfly laps after work in a Fitness First conveniently located right between my office and home. The outdoor pool is nice and serene, but I am not a fan of the general pumped-up atmosphere of the mainstream gym. The difference between this bodybuilder disco and the zen ambiance of my boutique barre studio is rather marked, which is why I haven’t been here for months. The swimming still leaves me feeling great, though; deliciously stretched and exhausted. I come home and crash on the sofa with a cup of lemongrass/licorice tea, a bowl of oat milk porridge, two lovely Skype calls with friends in London and a few chapters of a well-written novel. Katie Melua singing in the background. At around 11pm, S comes home from work drinks at a fancy Sentosa whiskey bar and suggests going to Crackerjack. I jump up and splash some water on my face. Never too comfy for a hot date with my man and a whiskey sour, or two, at a vibey new Tanjong Pagar bar.

Sensory Deprivation. On Saturday, we go on our second Mystery Date, this time arranged by S, who takes me to the Palm Ave Float Club (above one of my favourite bars/restaurants, Kilo) in Kampong Bugis. I’m genuinely exhilarated – but not surprised; this is so him; and so him to know that I’ll love it as much as him. The lounge area in front of the floatation chambers is beautiful – white walls, ceilings and floors, peaceful ambiance, panorama view of the river and palm trees below, groups of upscale beanbags covered in stylish natural fabrics, lush potted plants… We relax in the beanbags for a bit, and are then led to our rooms, which are also completely white, with the shiny floatation tank at the centre. As the doors close behind me, I undress, take a long shower and crawl into the ultraviolet inside of the tank. Stretch out flat on top of the highly concentrated epsom salt water, which is exactly the same temperature as the air and my body, turn off the light and close my eyes. Spread my legs lightly and let my arms move organically above my head, my spine decompressing and my limps growing longer, completely free from the strain of gravity. 10 minutes of music followed by 45 minutes of silence – followed by 5 minutes of music to wake you up if necessary. It’s necessary for me as I fall asleep after … I don’t know how long. I remember imagining I’m floating in a big sea, just off the shores of a desert tropical island, and then I come back to my little cocoon. You can make it as big or small as you want it to be. Unless you’re very claustrophobic, I guess. To me it becomes a small, safe egg shell. Pod. Nest. I’ve never felt so protected, I think to myself. So nestled.  Total luxury and pampering. No massage, no entertaining element, but still so blissful. Serene. Safe. Sensation. No sensation. Speculation. No speculation. Salty. Salt in my eyes. I reach out for the fresh water spray hanging to my left and spray my eyes gently. Rub out the salt. Relax again. Do a body scan. Notice that my knees are aching a tiny bit. Relax. Think how wild this can feel if you’re very stressed or very exhausted. Floatation was introduced in the 1950s by an American neuroscientist, who created the tanks to research the nature of consciousness. When you remove all sensory input, you essentially free 90% of the brain’s neural activity from tasks, enabling it to focus its powers inward, harmonising, healing and regulating your inner processes. What will a calmer, clear-headed you achieve? Will floatation boost your creativity and give you new insights? Will the lowered cortisol levels and blood pressure lead to an increased sense of clarity? Once the time is up and I’ve washed large cakes of salt off my body, I find S in the lounge and discuss some of my thoughts with him, accompanying the words with abstract illustrations in a notebook from a white bookcase above the beanbags. What feels like five minutes turns out to be 60; we realise we’ve spent an hour just smiling at each other and digesting the experience.

Netflix and Chill. I treat us to a glass of chilled tempranillo downstairs at Kilo, and then we take an uber to Lucha Loco on Duxton Hill, where we munch on fish tacos, chili mayo-smeared corn on the cob, tortilla chips with salsa and black beans and a tangy octopus ceviche in the cactus garden framing the lively Mexican spot. Drink: fresh lime soda with lots of ice. Subdued in a totally blissful way, we then walk home and curl up on the sofa to watch a disturbing episode of Black Mirror, followed by a cute episode of Love to calm our (well, my) nerves.

Bicycle! On Sunday afternoon, we travel to the opposite end of the country to pick up a blue bicycle that I found on Carousell. The uber rides back and forth cost more than the second-hand iron horse itself, but it’s pretty well-maintained and has just the right size, and in total, the bike, the 1 hour-long expedition, a basket and a bright red chain lock set me back a modest S$100. I love walking everywhere, but sometimes it’s a bit impractical or inadequate as a main means of transport. Now I have this blue friend, which we name Oscar, to save me when I’m too tired, impatient or bored or in too much of a hurry or going too far to walk. That way, I can limit my taxi driving to when I’m with S, who is too American to recognise the wonders of a bike. It will mean I’ll be getting a lot less exercise, as I walk an average of 10-15k a day to get to and from places, but it’s still better than a car. The freedom it gives you! The flexibility! I feel so happy when I take it grocery shopping on Sunday night, cruising along the river in the golden hour light, loading my heavy purchases into the basket after the transaction and, finally, turning up in Tiong Bahru to park it under a tree outside our walk-up. The happiness is a pang of feeling at home. The blissfully mundane familiarity of it, which can be traced back in a direct line to London, Copenhagen and the small village where I grew up.

Peanut Butter Sandwiches by the River. Is what we have for lunch on Sunday. Made at home and wrapped in tin foil. Carried over to the path behind the Warehouse. We sit here for 10 minutes, chewing and enjoying the view of the river in front of us, giggling childishly when a pair of staff members from the hotel come out to not-so-discreetly erect a shiny steel bin next to us, for us to throw the tinfoil in. Only in Singapore! Once we’ve done that, we take a seat in our favourite hotel lobby and spend a good three hours there, writing, reflecting on the week that went by and the new one ahead.

Laksa. That evening, I cook laksa, my first attempt at making a, sort of, local dish, well, it’s Malaysian. Most of the ingredients are organic and so fragrant, and I have such a good time chopping them up and preparing them, getting the flavour just right, while drinking a glass of red wine with S. Rice noodles. Coconut oil and curry paste from our trip to India. Red onion. Garlic. Vegetable stock. Kaffir lime leaves. Lemongrass. Sweet potatoes. Broccoli. Coconut milk. Chicken. Beansprouts. Chili. Cucumber. Pineapple. Coriander. Lots of lime juice. The setting sun is shining warmly in through the kitchen windows, and just as the soup is ready to be served, a guest knocks on the door. He’s an old friend of S’s, from New York, who moved here recently, and we always have such a good time with him. This evening included. When we’re halfway through dinner, which turns out quite tasty, our flatmate joins us, having just returned from a hen do/baby shower trip to Ubud. It’s her birthday, so I’ve put a bouquet of white carnations and a card on her bedside table. As the Bali trip was all about the pregnant engaged friend of hers, this is the first sign of celebration of her day, so the small gesture makes her very happy, which in turn amplifies the already jolly atmosphere in the home. We open another bottle of wine and have vegan/sugar free/organic coconut ice-cream garnished with fresh dragonfruit, raspberries and papaya for dessert.

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