Same same but different

You know when you’re on holiday and one place really reminds you of another? We’re getting that a lot at the moment. In this ‘Here And Not There’ life I suppose it’s only natural that we seek familiarity in all the new adventures.

Last Sunday, on a foray to the very chilled and lovely West Coast Park, Mr PartlyCloudy (propped up beside me under a shady tree) said: ‘It’s a bit like Hyde Park, isn’t it?’

It kind of was, a bit, sort of, except that Hyde Park is flat and vast. This place was tufty and lazy, sectioned off with dips and turns. It had a hawker centre and a McDonalds; I can’t think of an equivalent in Hyde Park. It had a random and jolly field full of enthusiastic campers in actual tents; I think it’s illegal to nail down a tent in Hyde Park unless you’re in the canvas bar at a concert. It was lined on one side by a dazzling crescent of harbour and had the hugest climbing frame from which our son, tiny against the big blue sky, was now waving, and it was all much hotter than it ever gets in Hyde Park: you could’ve fried eggs on that tall steel frame, no joke.

I knew what he meant, though, the place had something of the London park about it and so his brain had flicked through its virtual photo library and come up with a broad equivalent from home. I’ve done the same plenty of times in the last few months – Orchard Road is my Oxford Street, Botanic Gardens my Kenwood and Holland Village my Camden. (The west coast of Sentosa, we have agreed, is just like a party scene out of CSI Miami but that’s going to be another blog post altogether).

Why do we need such comparisons, and not just for places but also for things? Why are the expat websites full of threads about finding specific foods or brand names, favourite household gadgets or places to get something done just like you had it done at home? So often we qualify our new experiences with the reassuring line: ‘It was just like xxx’ [insert name of familiar and comforting place]. We all do it, me too. In amongst the embracing of a new culture we all need a little bit of Marmite on our toast.

I’ve always been teased for comparing places with my parents’ homeland, Cornwall. If I like a place and it looks a tiny bit Cornish then there I go, likening it to such and such a beach, to this village, to that pub. Mr PC is very patient with me about this but it must get jolly boring, and a bit daft at times.

Yes, I said eventually. I suppose it is a bit like Hyde Park, isn’t it?

Spot the difference

Or ‘things you notice when you stop complaining’

1 There is a swimming pool right outside my window. A proper one, good for lengths and everything, blue and clean with loungers, a ladder and a life ring. I’m still not jumping in it every day but it’s there.

2 January birthdays can be sunny. SmallMonkey turns eight next week, and back in the UK around about this time of year I would be booking an indoor hall, flicking on the neon strip lights and cranky heater, hauling coats into a pile and mopping up the muddy boot tracks afterwards. This year the dress code is minimal: all the kids need is a swimsuit and sunscreen. Yay!

3 Aquafit could be fun. Odd concept I know but I’ve always secretly wanted to do this, just couldn’t bear the thought of heaving myself from a stuffy changing room into an overheated indoor pool like a hippo. Lessons begin next week at a friend’s condo: splashing about outside with just a small dress to change into afterwards (well it will be small when I’m done) after a nice little stretch in the sun. It’s an hour of sunbathing, frankly, isn’t it? How fun is that?

4 I feel safe. Of course I touch wood when I say this, but I think nothing here of beetling about on my own after dark. I already know that on our return to the UK I will keep a big stash of cash for cabs, sorry Mr PartlyCloudy, because I aint doing that tense late-night Tube thing any more, not if I can get away with it. Out here you can drift on and off trains and buses any time of day or night, feeling fine. I’ve seen a few crowds of shouty kids but that’s all, and even then they’ve just been skaters on a sugar high. Journeys at night in Singsong are bliss for the lone woman traveller and rightfully so. World, take note.

5 We live under big skies. You don’t always notice this here. Cloudy skies, often, scary skies when lightning strikes. But with the monsoon on its way out the curtains have been pulled back and I can see how tall our tropical sky is. Skies make all the difference to a person’s mood. I have been whining about ours since October (although that makes a change from whining about them 12 months of the year back in the UK). Just recently, though, the rainy patches have been just that, patches, and the sky’s turned blue and the sun is so strong that we are bent over beneath it. Bliss if you like that kind of thing, as I do.

6 You will never go hungry in this town. Not a chance. Every mall has a food court, in addition to all the restaurants. You can’t help but eat*, it is impossible to avoid. Hurray!

7 It’s all good. A bit of a platitude, this one, but worth a grudging mention. Even when things are bad, my family will have something valuable to stick in the virtual album. Catch me grizzling in a corner and offer me tickets back home for good and I will decline, preferring instead to take our allocated amount of time here to its conclusion, thanks, because who knows when we’ll get the chance again? And there are so many pork buns* still to consume…

* See point three for follow-up care