Club. We are joining a club, 1880 — a new private members’ club with a wide range of alluring-sounding carefully curated qualities and offers, from the interior design and facilities of the space itself to the crowd and events. The location is ideal too — just across the river from Warehouse Hotel, close to Tiong Bahru and in one of our favourite neighbourhoods, Robertson Quay. I’ve never previously considered joining a club that wasn’t revolving around a type of sport (in London, it was enough to have friends who were Soho House members and could take me along for occasional dinners, talks, remote work in cosy sofas and hungover chilling by the pool, where we never engaged with anyone but each other), but for the first time ever, I (admit to myself that I) find the idea of meeting — hopefully — inspiring, likeminded people in a club setting very appealing. We don’t know what it will bring — what we can bring to it — but that’s part of the appeal too. Work is clearly defined; the barre community revolves around a specific passion; this is completely open. It’s a while till it opens — I’m going on a hard hat tour of the venue next week – but this week we’re filling in the member profile form, and I can feel the excitement come creeping as I type in my carefully considered replies to the vital questions of my preferred drink, holiday destination, film etc. Drink is easy (whiskey sour). Holiday destination? Dolomites for skiing, several idyllic oceanside spots for swimming and sailing, NYC for the energy, Denmark for the hygge — how do I boil that down? As for picking a film, my mind goes momentarily blank and then quickly gets cluttered with contenders. The Great Gatsby (both versions), Amélie, the Before trilogy … don’t worry about what appears cliched or pretentious, changed my life or way of thinking or ‘really says something about me.’ Just go for what I’d happily watch on loop any time. How about … the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women! It’s rooted in memory and nostalgia — and is also relevant to me now. I must have been around 10 years old when first reading the story of four sisters, Amy, Beth, Jo, and Meg, who are all so sweet, smart, brave, loyal and full of curiosity, compassion and creativity — and who all pursue empowerment and freedom in their own individual ways. The novel immediately resonated with me, and together with Anne (of Green Gables) and Laura (Ingalls Wilder), Jo, who was the sister I identified with the most (and who was played by Winona Ryder in the film), became my best imaginary friend. I was happily surprised when a few years later, a real-life school friend introduced me to the film. Suddenly I had something so dear to me in common with someone from the real world. She hadn’t read the book but she still loved the story (and Christian Bale and Gabriel Burne, who played the main love interests of Jo). We watched the film numerous times and played games where I was Jo and she was Meg and we made her sisters play Amy and Beth. At university, the book came up again — now in English, and now in the context of its representation of transcendentalism. It’s funny with philosophies like that — the essence of it was probably what spoke to me as a little girl, but back then I wasn’t aware of the formal school of thought. The writer was part of the literary, political and philosophical movement around Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau, and in the book, the girls’ dad runs one of the most liberal schools in New England, open to all races and belief systems, championing gender equality too, and he teaches his daughters to be critical of the conformity they experience around them, ask questions about and challenge cultural conventions in general and women’s role in society in particular and to seek their relation to the universe in solitude in nature… etc. Suddenly, at university, when I studied German and English romantic literature and we read Walden Pond, it all came together as an exciting connection of dots leading back to my favourite book and film as a little girl. I went to New England with my family, with my English literature class and eventually on my own, and still experienced the same pure happiness as when I was first introduced to the place in fiction. My mum and I still watch the movie at Christmas, sometimes. I always get a thrill when I hear or think of the first line of the film, Jo’s voice, its sweetness, love and rhythm, as she goes, ‘my sisters and I remember that winter as the coldest of our childhood … somehow our family, the March family, seemed to create its own light in the dark.’ When my mum was here a few weeks ago, we talked about our favourite line of the film, the very final one, when Jo’s future husband says to her that he has nothing to offer her, that his hands are empty, and she puts her hands in his and notes, ‘they are not empty now.’ Haha, a lot of thoughts about that film — I write it on the form and, if needed, I can use it as an ice breaker when we meet people at the club. In that same moment, a friend from London calls me up to talk about how central it is to our wellbeing to surround ourselves with inspiring, kind and bold people. The other day she walked from Bank to Spitalfields for the first time in ages and thought of our old, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily, walks together along the same route. The sweet memory made her miss me, but as she was walking, she realised that she definitely doesn’t miss the insane busyness of those streets. I wonder if it’s me or the city that has changed: I don’t remember it as being insanely busy. All I remember is our talks and laughs, sipping the good coffee and soaking in the sensory impressions of the cityscape. She says that what was so amazing about those walks was the company. The conversation takes me back to the familiar question of what ‘home’ is. I love everything about my life here in Singapore, and I don’t ‘need’ a bunch of friends in my daily physical life like I had in London, but I do like the idea of joining that club and hopefully meeting more sweet people.
Mindfulnenss. At work, a woman from an organisation called LiveWell teaches us about the fundamentals of neuroplasticity, the importance of self love, kindness and having a nonjudgmental outlook and, finally, a few different breathing exercises. It’s the first time I’ve ever joined a wellness workshop at work, and it’s an interesting new experience to talk with my colleagues about something other than … work. Everyone is very open and willing to listen and participate, which makes me want to start socialising more at the office – as good a place to start as any, really. I never really take the time to chat at the water cooler, fruit basket or tgif drinks in the pantry – I want to make an effort with that.
Seng Poh Tea Garden. There is this lovely little park off Seng Poh Road in Tiong Bahru full of semicircular wooden benches with shade-giving greenery hanging from overarching rafters. We hang out there one day, eating chia seed and almond flour waffles and drinking matcha lattes from Tiann’s down the road. Mmm.
Exploring. Something I love about Singapore is that however small and neat it sometimes seems, it keeps offering new surprising experiences. I love Bugis; it’s an area we spend a lot of time in, but although I have a good general sense of direction, I keep getting lost in its streets and fail to have a complete mental map of it. The labyrinthine mystery is part of its charm. On Tuesday, we meet for some healthy and tasty vegetarian shu-food at clean and light if not exactly romantic and charming Idealite, but before tucking into our colourful ramen bowls, we meander around the gigantic Buddhist retail complex across the street, just around the corner from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, and through the hectic and packed eclectic in-door street market, Bugis Street, where we’ve never been before – small, clearly defined cultural enclaves which are very open and accessible to everyone. After dinner, we wander over to Kampong Glam to look at the light show on the minarets of the mosque and chill by the scent garden in the heritage centre. We sit on a bench below the neon lit palm trees, big smiles, few words, just enjoying this tivoli in which we’re fortunate enough to live.
Brace Off. This week marks the six-week anniversary of my knee surgery, which means that I get to take off the big, black brace that’s been covering my leg ever since the operation, hopefully for good. It’s nice knowing that the ligaments have healed, at least enough for me to bend my leg while bearing weight. I meet my physiotherapist at the gym to have a daily rehab program made, really appreciating the professional focus on my recovery, and I celebrate by going back ‘home’ to Barre2Barre for daily classes. All of the teachers are so sweet, kind, saying they missed me and offering nimble modifications of the exercises that I can’t do. I missed it so much too – it’s a wonderful feeling to be back to something; it makes me feel at home in Singapore while at the same time serving as a satisfying reminder that my immobility was temporary. Most of the exercises are perfectly in line with what the physio advises me to do – slow, controlled and careful strengthening and stretching of the core muscles, glutes, quads and hamstrings with a focus on alignment. S joins me for a class on Saturday — I know that there are aspects of it that he doesn’t love as much as I do, but he focusses on the positives (such as the playlist), making it enjoyable to share the experience for both of us. Long walks through town both Saturday and Sunday, coffee at dark and cosy Ronin, where he waits for me after the class on Sunday, and meandering back along the river together, taking breaks to enjoy the view on the leafy stretches by Robertson Quay, getting lunch at the delicious SPRMRKT at the STPI, sipping smoothies and tucking into vegetable wraps as we gaze across the river, and checking out a David Hockney exhibit at the upstairs gallery.
House Party. Breaking a pattern of cosy, alcohol-free week day evenings at home – sit down dinners followed by reading or watching Netflix — we meet at the Club Street wine bar and bistro, O’Batignolles, on Friday night, enjoying a glass of wine with a friend in the sunset and then heading up the street to a barbecue party full of Googlers. Lots of fun conversations … really nice to be out … even if we do find ourselves sneaking into the lift and ordering an Uber to take us home at 11pm, an hour after the first yawns and the first throbbing signs of fatigue-induced pain in my knee start occurring.
Mystery Date. After this, this and this experience, S announces that our 4th Mystery Date will take place this Saturday. He gives me one clue in advance – unicorn. I have no idea what we’re doing, and my excitement rises as we get ready in the late afternoon and eventually take an Uber … to Duxton Hill. A few weeks ago he stumbled upon the very charming wine bar, Praelum. The house sommelier (former National Sommelier Champion, no less!) introduces us to a tasting flight of three very special red wines, one from South Africa, one from Syria and one from China, all defined, by the passionate guy, as being so ‘hip and rare that it hurts,’ i.e., unicorn wines. They are all very delicious in each their way, and he does a good, engaging job of presenting the stories of the small, obscure wineries behind them as we smell, sip and exchange impressions. After that lovely treat, S takes me around the corner to Etna for a delicious Italian meal. By then, we’re so tipsy that most of our conversation amounts to a competitive exchange of dramatic and hilariously random Italian expressions. A very good example of a mystery date. Wonder what I’ll think of next 🙂
Back in Bugis. Sunday night is for sharing a spread of betel leaf wraps, papaya salad, tom yum soup and tender coconuts at Sawadee followed by a wonderful hour-long foot massage side by side at Zufu Footbath and Reflexology around the corner from the Thai restaurant. Between the two experiences, we go for a walk in charming Purvis Street – I want to remember this street and come back for meals at all of its many nice- yet unpretentious-looking little eateries behind ornamental arches and with outdoor service.