New route round the block

After a three-week break from running (house move, end-of-term, mild dose of chest-bashing Mycoplasma), I laced up my trainers early this morning and set out on my new route. I say ‘running’, but I must admit I’m not much of a runner these days. Jogger. Hobbler.

I’m an early morning girl, preferring to get out there before the sun turns my lungs to liquid, and so I’m often doing my routes in that bit of dark before dawn. Singapore is essentially a safe town but you do hear of the odd incident, so I like a few people dotted about here and there, and I plot my routes carefully and accordingly. My new route looked good on paper – four right angles round the block, roughly 3.5k, through areas that looked quiet and green but still populated.

Having lived in the leafy Holland Road area for three years I wanted a run that took me under a few trees, but before you hit any greenery around here you have to first navigate the weird bit of land just before Orchard. It’s a funny old area – like the outskirts of any major city, the road loops along placidly for a good few miles before suddenly getting excitable just before the action of the city centre. Our nearest strip of main road has a line of odd buildings that look like they ought to be on the outskirts of a city, perhaps just approaching the main train station, or something equally noteable. There’s nothing wrong with the buildings, they’re innocuous, but when someone says ‘Singapore’ you usually have glitter or jungle in mind, not pink faux Tudor.

No matter. Once I’d turned away from the odd bit of main road I was in embassy land, and my route took me limping past vast houses set back from the road and swish condos with shiny gates – if you know Norf London then I might just say ‘Bishops Ave’ and leave it at that. In theory I had thought this would be a good road to go down, being semi-populated; in fact it was dark and deserted, and absolutely no one would have heard me being bundled into a car and captured, as they were all sleeping in the back of their 20-bedroom cluster apartments, with Fort Knox locks between me and them. So I turned down a side lane that I knew would lead me back a bit sooner and found myself galloping weakly along a leafy track that reminded me so much of Sevenoaks I immediately started constructing a letter in my head to my Aunty who lives there, before a passing car (YAY, people!) reminded me to keep my mind on the road.

After that it was back down to the Tudors for a wobbly sprint along a nice flat stretch before a last painful pant up the path to home. Just shy of three-and-a-half of your best kilometres, and a nice little notch on my Nike app for the month of June.

One nice thing was that I ended up skirting the Botanic Gardens, which made me think of Dad, who adores the place. So Dr P if you’re reading this hurry up and come back again, there’s lots more to show you. Promise not to make you run.

Change of a dress

A month seems to have gone by since the last posting. Something to do with Dad’s departure in April? It’s not unusual to have a post-Dad delay in writing but it’s not that. I just don’t feel much like chattering, and that’s why this time I haven’t broadcast this on social media as a way to get you to read it. If you are reading this it’s because you wanted to, not because I told you to – which is nice! If you’re thumbing back through several posts, well, no matter. I do that too.

We are moving, so in fact there has been lots to shout about here in Sing. We’re not moving abroad, or back to the UK, just down the road to a different place for a different adventure for WhoKnowsHowLong. The new move has dislodged us in various ways. Mr PC is enthusiastic, upbeat. Well, isn’t he always? SM was glum, then tense, and is now cautiously jolly. He’ll have to resettle all over again, he’s very aware of that, and it’s taken him four weeks to say that he does in fact quite like the new place (he should do: it’s got ponds with fish, and ceiling fans). Me? Veering from massive enthusiasm to sadness and anxiety, as always. So in fact we’re all being completely normal.

Much as I love to portray myself as a bonkers mercurial Gemini, though, I really do hate change. I can’t work out if this move means we are in a more wedged position over here, or very much uprooted, or just the same as before only a mile down the road.

The new apartment is a walk away from work, and that’s another thing that’s happened lately: office life once more, absolutely no hope of clicking on the computer dressed in my gym kit with a bag of crisps on the side. It’s going to be a great excuse to go clothes shopping this summer, at least one little trip, perhaps, but starting a new role, albeit part-time, again highlights the fixed position that we currently enjoy here in Singapore and removes us further still from London life. Yet every month we Skype the person sorting out our London flat, keen to get cracking on renovations some time next year.

I’ve foghorned all these new plans to the Singapore side, yet not said much at all to those in the UK, because those conversations lead to the inevitable big questions, and I’d rather flick through the Ikea catalogue again rather than face up to my social responsibilities.

I suppose I’ve reached the point where I’ve no idea where we are or what we’re up to.  When I shop for couches and cutlery it’s for here AND there. In Women’s Clothing it’s also for here, although I often wonder when it will be for there. On the surface it’s fun; underneath, there’s probably a bit of emotional grouting to be done.

See some of you in London this summer. I’ll be in the John Lewis kitchen section looking confused.

A side order of sulk

Another lunch, another eavesdrop:
‘And then you go back and not a thing has changed, apart from the children of course, but these days it’s just not worth it.’
What a pity it wasn’t a juicier snippet. If I have to sit around waiting for people in restaurants (cough, #firstworldproblems), at least let me overhear something original/funny/steamy.
Of course, what the people at the next table were really talking about was Perspective, with a big pee. A move gives one a different perspective, so yes, once you have relocated you may get the sensation that you’ve changed more than those left at home. Actually, plenty of things give us perspective: a new love, a new job, an affair, a life loss. It is sheer arrogance to assume that nothing changes at home just because you are not there. It is the same as saying: “You haven’t done this, therefore you haven’t grown as much as me.”
In replying I feel tired, trite even, in disagreeing, panto-style, that in fact oh yes they have changed, they’re just doing it under different skies, that’s all.

Meh. Don’t go back, then, I doubt anyone will mind. Cheque please.

10k v2

What a difference a daytime run makes. The night-time stagger to the Finish at my first 10k last May left me thinking: never, ever, ever again. So who’d have thought that just five months later I’d be cantering over my second 10k Finish? Well, not me, clearly.

It was Book Club Louise’s fault. I really didn’t ever want to run a 10k again but she suggested giving it a go. No harm in going in for round two, I thought. I’m a morning person and so the crack of dawn start was nice, with a cool rainy breeze and quiet, peaceful roads down to the Flyer. By the time the sun came out we were halfway round the course and the pavements hadn’t had time to reach baking point; when you do a nightime run the roads are slowly going back down to a cool temperature but they’re still very warm. Running in the day also meant that you could see where you were going: result.

I won’t lie, I didn’t ‘canter’. The first 5k was great, 7-9 was bad. It hurt. My knees have been hating me all day. Having hosted my best buddy on a visit to Sing for the last two weeks, my training routine had been all about eating and drinking, and I wasn’t at all ready. Last time my spreadsheet was printed out and stuck on the wall beside my desk and I followed it religiously. My curry, cocktails and cake routine and the odd saunter round the block will never make it into any professional training manual. Still, being a plump but happy runner has its benefits: it made me much jollier about lining up at the start, but I can’t say it did me any physical favours.

That’s it for me with 10ks, for sure, my knees will be happy to hear. I’m leaving it to people like Mr PC who actually like running for an hour and a half, often longer, in temperatures approaching 32C. I’m not sure Louise will be doing one again, but she should – she flew round the course and had already picked up her bag and banana by the time I limped under the flags. I think I’d rather have healthy knees than a banana.

Apologies

1 To SmallMonkey, for allowing you to believe in Father Christmas right up until now. Yep, it’s us! Huge sighs of relief all-round and immediate re-direction of The List.

2 To the pigeon who flew into the window opposite then landed on a high-up ledge just before we had to leave the condo for an all-day party. We assume you’re OK, since you’re not here any more.

3 To Mrs H, who I have managed to successfully ignore for the last nine days. Think of it this way: having me sob into your shoulder all week was the last thing you needed. Goodbye, then. Good luck x

It’s all Chinese to me

Every now and then I surprise myself, and not in a good way. It shouldn’t be news to me that I’m slow at learning Mandarin, because languages have always been my biggest personal failing: D in French, so-so in Latin. It’s just that for someone who loves music, singing and talking, I’ve always been surprised that I’m so rubbish at learning to speak anything other than English.

Earlier this year, at the age of nearly-45, I decided to embark on yet another linguistic voyage, and set sail with Mr PC on a Mandarin cruise. The classes were at first buoyant, breezy. Riding high on the light and choppy waves of ‘Hello, You, They, Thank you’, we sailed home after each class in a froth of smuggery, buying a smarmy coffee en route and chirruping out the odd word to each other in front of friends and family. This is easy! [we thought] Everyone look at us! The teacher was a gentle captain, friendly and supportive and funny, but even she could not save us when the Mandarin boat she skippered sailed into the tricky waters of week three, hit a rock, and started sinking.

We persevere, Him and me, each week. He’s pretty good, actually, having an engineer’s clever memory brain, but my brain is mercurial, changeable, restless, and so we are mismatched students. While he sits high up on the deck scanning the language horizon, with his perfect white teeth forming perfectly shaped words, I lie on my bunk feeling queasy and brace for an hour and a half of typhoon learning, small virtual squares hurling themselves at the wheelhouse window of my brain, scattering squiggles across the deck and rocking them back into the perilous waves of sound coming from somewhere near the front of the room. I live in hope that somehow, by some kind of linguistic osmosis, one or two of the little black shapes will get caught in my brain-net, but always they are washed back over the side, lost forever in the tricky D-grade sea.

This week I tried really, really hard. I set aside time each day to pore over the inscrutable pages of my workbook, and when I couldn’t do the current chapter I made myself go back over a more manageable one to at least learn a few phrases from that. I used Mr PC’s clever tablet app, slowly, slowly memorising one, two, three more words each day and it worked, because in tonight’s class I remembered so much more than last week. It is possible, I realised, but only with a momentous effort and many, many cups of tea.

Now you know that if you catch me staring at you with a blank look, it’s not because I’ve left something in the oven, 这是因为我总是在学习.

Recalculating

This was supposed to be a post about Vietnam. I was having enough trouble with that, for whoknowswhat reason, and then we came back and something else happened and none of the other things I was going to say seemed relevant any more.

I’m sorry to sound so flat-eared when I’ve just been for an exotic spin around the paddy fields in the back of a moped-truck and then a slow paddle up the Mekong in a long boat wearing one of those conical hats before hitting up Saigon for more incredible fresh food and a whizz round the bonkers night market (there: Vietnam), but then the Thing happened, the sad Thing that happens all the time out here. And for a while that was that, in terms of any fancy travel writing.

I went and sat in the cinema for a bit, it being the only place in Singapore where I could have an #uglycryingface and no one would see, and while SM sat to attention through all the shooty bits, I had some popcorn and a think.

I know people leave. That’s life. In any case, I’m not knew to it, because we had a lot of this in our old town, a posh north London enclave once famous for writers and artists, now better known for smart shoe shops, gold card accounts and a thriving expat community, which implodes and explodes seasonally, as the expat community does here. I had a few friends come and go. I should be used to it. I’m not.

If I have to live here, then I have to have friends. If I have to keep saying goodbye to friends, then I’m not sure I can live here.

I jest, of course. Everyone knows I’m having a lovely time and I’m not quite ready to get down from the comfy chair yet. But how to adjust? Do you harden to it? Do the new friendships you make become skin-deep, less important, out of necessity? What’s it like to be a local here and to have this happen literally all of the time? I should know – that was me once – but I don’t.

In any case it’s really no one’s fault, and that’s an important point to make, and I think I even said it somewhere here: we come and go according to the tides of commerce. Whoever pays for the bacon is in charge of the schedule, and the workers and their families must change mercurially according to what’s needed, with the Home-Makers swept along in the wake of the Bacon-Getters, stuffing pants into a case, redirecting post, downing several bottles of wine at hurried goodbye parties with a cell phone tucked under the chin on speed-dial to the next international school. I say ‘our’, but I haven’t had to do this yet, and I hope I won’t have to, unless I feel like it, or ask for it. That’s not how it happens, though.

For those of us waving goodbye through the patio doors, it’s not just about how we feel about the leavers, it’s about adjusting our own settings in accordance with what is happening around us, about how much emphasis we put on OtherPeople, and whether or not we feel the need to continually renew our social settings in this world, or if we’re happy to build a bubble around ourselves and push on regardless. I guess I’m just a bit rubbish at the bubble thing.

There’s a selfish slant to it too, that ‘left-behind’ suspicion that everyone else is going on to funky pastures new, while us lot get left behind to battle on with life in our luxurious condos with the pools and the gyms and the tropical holidays… (yeah, alright, I’m onto that one already).

After our trip to the cinema I explained to SM yet again about the fact that another batch of patio-door-knockers would no longer be knocking on our patio door, and he said three things: 1) Can we go too? 2) Let’s make the most of them. 3) Maybe what we need to do is have another barbecue?

Actually, he said four things: 4) Why does everyone have to do this?

Home leave

It’s 5am and I’m awake. I’m on the couch in the front room of our rental apartment. We’re making the most of Mr PC being back in Sing by having a full-ish house: BestFriend is stopping over for a few days just like old times and she gets my bed, with SM on the floor in the same room and me in the living room where, I have to say, it gets light fairly early and is noisy, looking straight down onto my busy high street, but it’s not that loud, or light. I can’t possibly still be jetlagged, can I?

Kids get overtired and can’t sleep. It happened to SM last night. There’s not a huge divide between the front room and the bedroom and we had the telly on loud and we eventually had to switch it off and just talk (again, like old times), but I’m not sure it was just the TV noise keeping him up. Over-stimulated, kept up late night after night, pumped up on playdates, maybe I’ve got a dose of that?

We are in Week Three, suspended somewhere between Arrival Adrenalin and the cosy entrenchment of faux repatriation. I catch myself referring to Singapore as ‘home’, which is nice, but at the end of each day we come back ‘home’ to this little temporary campsite high above the posh shops somewhere near our actual proper home. So there’s the limbo thing, I guess. We make visits every day and are high on caffeine and chatter, staying up late and doing it again the next day, but really, back to back fun is nothing we can’t handle.

As always I’ve an eye on the clock, tick-tocking slowly towards TheEnd, and I’ve also spotted yet another airline crash, buried deep in South-East Asian news so not as globally trumpeted as The Big One from last week. I can’t say it’s making me overly happy to hop on a plane in ten days time, but then Syria and Gaza dance across the news and I’m reminded that I could be living in a warzone. So that’s alright then…

No doubt about it, I’m definitely up. I think I’ll finish the article I am supposed to be sending any day now (just as well I’m awake and ready to write, then), and maybe after that I’ll heave my extra pounds around the block on a ‘run’ (hobble) while BestFriend and SM slumber on, and after that I’ll get some more caffeine on the boil in advance of today’s social antics. Sleep is so overrated.

School’s out for summer

Actually in our case it really is out for ever, because we’re moving to a brand new one in August. So brand new that building work is not even completed yet, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. And so just as quickly as it started, it seems, Y4 is over and ten long weeks of summer stretch ahead. I’m not scared, I have plans, and with the help of these bookings, plus the month-long trip back to the UK, plus a little nip of vodka now and then – oh, and Vietnam in August – well, I think I’ll cope.

In amongst all this I have one eye on the horizon. SM is conscious that our visit here has been extended – not unhappy, just aware. I think we are all a little worried about his transition to the new school, because last time it was unexpectedly tricky and we’d all like a smoother move this time round. It’s been a mixed old bag of a school, and saying goodbye today to the place, and to some of the people, reminded us of what we’ll miss:

The lush tropical courtyard garden, the rolling green playground, the massive running track, huge retro outdoor pool with cantilevered roof, snake-fondled climbing frame, the red-toothed betel chewing gate man, rousing school songs, fab and utterly wonderful Y4 teacher, brilliant bus auntie and sweet paper airplane-making driver (not while driving, thankfully), plus the basic but essential plus point of relative proximity to home (apart from in a storm, when every journey in Singapore takes an extra hour). Most of all we will sorely miss SM’s Best Friend, who stays at the old school while we move on. As I type they are chatting over an after-school dinner like an old married couple; that’s one thing that will never change.

So then, the things we won’t miss: the mad elf outfit with balloon shorts, the stinky Glastonbury bogs, snakes on the climbing frame, bizarre lack of email system, odd tinted windows on the music classroom (WHY, I always wondered), marathon three-hour school shows with wobbly sound system and no cushions, unidentifiable lumps of gristle in the canteen food, lack of any trace of breeze on entrance steps, chilly welcome to the Y3 class – all that. No postcards for you lot.

I meant it when I wished the teacher well this afternoon, as I collected SM, Best Friend and BF’s Little Brother for the very last time. Stuffed into the back of a Comfort Cab with a year’s worth of classroom tat each, we waved to the man at the gate as we left, and I had a little urge, Ferris Bueller-style, to chuck all the bags out the window as we skirted Star Vista Mall until I realized that, well, if you don’t hold on to something tIMG_6366here’ll be nothing to fondly dig up later down the line.

So we’ll miss you, funny old school, and you, Best Friend (although I reckon we’ll see you more once we’ve left).

To be continued…

Relativity

As our summer trip to the UK approaches I am remembering what it was like to be pregnant or have a small baby. It’s not an obvious connection – and it started with a new-mum friend from home posting on FB about how annoyed she gets with people’s attitudes to the whole sleep thing, and it reminded me of all the questions I hated, and the bump thing as well: I was ‘huge’ to one person and ‘tiny’ to another, and really, who cared but me?

‘Is she sleeping through the night yet?’ they ask my friend, pointing at her four-month-old daughter. ‘Well,’ replies my friend, ‘I’m not sleeping through the night yet, and I’m 32’.

It’s the same with the How Long Have You Been Here question. ‘Almost two years,’ I am now telling people and always, ALWAYS I get a raised eyebrow and ‘Oh, is that all?’ in response. What? Is what all? What? I have no idea how long I am supposed to have been here before I elicit a different response, and when I do get a different one, what will it be? And again, who really cares?

This goes on ad nauseum, I’m guessing. I might do a deal – when my friend’s baby sleeps through the night I’ll start telling people how long I’ve been here.