Amoy amas amat

In my four months on this island I have trudged a chalked out circle that roughly encompasses Bukit Timah to the north, Esplanade to the east, Sentosa to the south and Chinese Gardens to the west. This is a fairly typical expat pattern, and every now and then I poke a toe through the invisible bubble and have an adventure. Today I did this and fell in love.

I had a meeting in the top floor of an old shophouse on Amoy Street, a narrow road full of old shophouses. I had arrived by MRT, head in a book the whole way, and when I popped out at the steaming station entrance I braced myself for the usual map-jabbing phone nonsense but it was an easy place to find, and that was the first of many lovely things about the day. The route took me up a busy road and through a very London-looking park (clean London, of course, not Tenants Extra Dead Pigeon London) and then there was this sudden sweep of colourful wooden windows, a row of shutter-fronted gorgeousness with a tiny temple squidged in at the hooked right angle of the road, just where a mad sea of blue Comfort cabs offloaded workers arriving back in time for lunch.

Lunch? The most enormous hawker centre clearly serving the office staff of the entire area was already bubbling with noonday chatter but I fell into a little cafe, because the sign on the door had promised me chocolate. The resulting molten muffin was bought for the boy but I scoffed it by accident while I waited absent-mindedly at a bus stop a little later, dreaming of those primary coloured shutters and golden temple antlers.

You know, I can’t be bothered to do that coy ‘keeping it a secret’ thing so that no one goes there. Hundreds of people already go there, it was packed out, but in a calm and self-contained way with everyone having a purpose and a spot of soothing chanting thrown in for good measure from the more prominent Thian Hock Keng temple down next door’s Telok Ayer Street. Go there if you like, I’ve already shared the name and in any case it has been more than discovered and for good reason. Go there tomorrow*, it will make your day, as it did mine.

*If you do not currently live in Singapore then save up for a flight out here and I will take you to Amoy Street in person, providing I am not already down there having lunch in the food court since I didn’t visit it today.

Gone shopping

I went down Orchard Road yesterday (Singapore’s version of London’s Oxford Street). I don’t go down there very often and I am only sitting here writing this post today thanks to the sign below. If I hadn’t stopped to look I would still be in Wisma Atria, going up and down the bl**dy escalators trying to find the exits, living an underground life like Fantastic Mr Fox, never to be seen above ground again.

It’s not hard, is it, giving good clear instructions? But most of the signposts are concealed politely around corners or up so high that you don’t spot them until you’ve sailed past into the next huge shopping grid. I can’t march the holy tiles all day and I certainly don’t have the handbag capacity in my wardrobe for a mega shopping splurge. Often I resort to asking people: ‘how do I get out?’ and by then I am looking a little crazed but I don’t care, I just want to get home. No, I don’t go down Orchard very often.

It’s not all bad. Amongst the ‘Things I Like’ about Orchard are the plentiful food stores, clean and functional toilets, the welcome air con, the little baskets they give you at restaurants to put your bags in, the Bond Street-esque reminders of London and the all-round spotlessness of the place. There’s a downside to the tidyness, though: I’ve considered bringing a bag of snacks and leaving a trail to retrace my steps but of course I couldn’t because someone would have been along to sweep up.


Ugh. That phrase. Yuk. Don’t you just hate it? Brings out the 12-year-old in me. I don’t want to be all needy and sad, it’s tiresome. So I’ve stuck the feeling in a pot, drawn my specs down to the end of my nose and am inspecting it as if it’s one of my son’s little woolly caterpillars from off the path.

This week I am definitely ‘homesick’, but what’s it all about? A bit like that condition Vertigo, which doesn’t necessarily mean you are scared of heights, this homesickness I have is something different to what the name might suggest, something unplaceable (I’m afraid I can’t work out quite what, I’m altogether too homesick to focus).

It’s a misnomer, this business, because I’m not sick, and not ‘sick of home’. And I don’t think I actually want to go home. Well, maybe I do, in fact yes of course I do, but it’s odd because at the same time I very much don’t want to go home just yet – and that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Yes I badly miss my family and friends, almost physically, but what will be at home when I get there? And how would I feel if I landed back there tomorrow, literally in 24 hours? It’s not that. Is it the date? Fifth November, fireworks, bangers, bobby dazzlers on the Heath all scarfed up? Nope. And it’s not that I hate it here, that I loathe every day and want to actually leave. Mostly it is all lovely: my apartment looks like something out of a magazine, I can swim any time I want, I don’t have to wear much so getting dressed is a dream for a lazy dresser like me, and even if it rains my bones are warm. Oh, and there are palm trees outside my window. So it’s nice, this life.

But this week I am homesick to the point that I find it hard to get out of bed, I go to sleep sad and I wake up sad. Food tastes sad, I don’t even want ice cream, so at lunchtime I am sad and by dinnertime I am still sad. It’s got nothing to do with the amount of brilliant people I’ve met since arriving and without whom I would definitely be going home. And it’s got nothing to do with the brilliantly lovely people I’ve left behind.

I’m told it takes six months ‘to settle’, whatever settling involves, and we are three months in so I will just have to hunker down and weather it. Oh boy though – the lights might be on but I am definitely not in.