Bad language

SmallMonkey said a rude word over dinner, and not for the first time over the last few weeks. This was all naughty enough but then he ignored my mild admonishment (I’ll react gently now, I thought, and pick it up later – but I never got the chance), and went and texted the word to a friend. Again, not for the first time. “Ping!” went my phone. Sadly for him he’d picked a mate whose mother bears no truck with this sort of thing – quite rightly – and as a result he now has one less pal on the block, at least until the curfew is off.

This is one of the tricky things about expat living. It’s not just Mandarin that we need to learn to speak out here, it’s all the social languages too, and each person you meet will have a different code and all those codes need to be filed away and then you can only hope that the kids remember all the social rules too and sometimes they do and sometimes, well…

All the lovely pals I’ve met out here only know me because I happen to be living in the same country as them at the same time. We didn’t meet in the playground and establish a long-lasting friendship. We didn’t get together at work and stay friends, or buddy up at the local NCT class, at the school gate. We only have current conversation to go by, and if that doesn’t work out then there’s not a lot left over; no history. You can’t get away with the same things that you got away with at home, and it’s the same no matter how old you are. SmallMonkey’s situation is not so far removed from a dodgy coffee morning or a not-so-good night out where I’ve not quite got my point across in the way I intended. At least I am old enough to tell myself off, and I don’t get my iTouch taken away for two weeks. Poor little s*d (whoops), as if he wasn’t already isolated enough just by being out here.

In the same way that I sometimes find myself having to dial down my ‘eccentric Londoner’ act when I sense people are finding it a bit too much, my son now has to learn that the new stuff he is bringing home from school is just as illegal in our Singapore kitchen as it is in our London home. Rude words are just as banned here – they are not just part of the excitement of going to a new school and giggling in a new corner with new friends and it’s not OK to then experiment with the new words on all your other new friends out here, because they will be just as insulted as your friends back home would have been. As will their mothers. Our eccentricities, his and mine, can cut short a coffee morning or a playdate if we are not too careful.

Whatever. There are many levels to what was essentially kind of a minor incident and I tackled the most obvious ones first, those being Internet safety and messaging protocol:

‘Those words you’re writing don’t just flutter about in the air,’ I said, ‘they go into someone’s house, and that person reads them, and that person’s mother reads them and then you are in trouble.’ (‘And then so are you,’ he added, to his credit.)

Learning about swear words might not be any better at home but I do wish, a little bit, that we hadn’t quite reached this stage yet, because not only is he dealing with a life away from the norm but if he was swotting for all those ‘Inappropriate Language’ exams back in the UK at least he’d be doing it amongst people who know him and have a bit of history to go on, who can make the distinction between the new kid with the foul mouth and the small child with the exemplary social record.

We both have our mouths shut for now but I do see this ‘communication’ theme as one that is bound to crop up again…

Only in Sing #1

Am on MRT and have found a space where I can lean against partition, balance bag, get phone out and send a quick WhatsApp before I get to the station. Race to finish sending message before train pulls in. Shuffle forward ready to get off. Train slows. Tap out last words “…just on train” then press send. Doors open, step off…

…straight into the person I was texting, who was waiting patiently for doors to open watching me through the glass and laughing. Really only in Sing.

Day dreams

The last six months has been split into countdowns. It has been inevitable and I’m not sure how I could have prevented it. In rough order we have had: departure, arrival, school, half term, Christmas, sister, New Year, Lunar New Year and now Easter. With Easter comes Dad and with Dad comes another injection of home and it’s naughty to look forward to that and it’s cheating, in a way, but I can’t help it. I wish I could just take the days as they come but the stepping-stones keep getting thrown down and to veer off the emotional path just hasn’t seemed worth it. So I’m counting down for Dad’s arrival and it is addictive.

I’m in Cold Storage and I want to show him the seaweed crackers. I’m on the bus coming back from school and I want him to see the fairy lights at the corner of Holland Avenue. In my mall there are some exotic frocks that I know Mum would have loved – I want to show him those, don’t know why. Today a bus took me past miles and miles of big bushy trees and there was a glimpse of reservoir: there are monkeys in there and snakes, I want to tell him. I can see him nodding, giving me an excited shoulder-nudge. I want to subject him to a school assembly, ask him to check the plants outside the spare room and tell me what they are, get caught in a storm with him, ask if he can hear the crickets at night, see if he can catch the gecko in the kitchen, watch him watching SmallMonkey skateboard, sit with him at a bus stop in the heat, hear him talk to the funny stubby cats down our road, cool off with him over a beer at my favourite outside bar. Don’t even get me started on the dumplings and stir-fries I have already ordered.

There are just under five weeks between now and then and in that time I have another much-wanted guest to stay, nice nights out, several gym-things, the sameoldsameold book to chip away at, all that. Hopefully the sun will come out at some point so I can lie beneath it; my nails could do with another session. I should be trying to find work, planning our Easter Borneo trip, organising a school coffee morning, trying to find more work, exploring – I should take a bus to the end of the island and back, book a daytrip to Ubin. I should be setting up those Mandarin classes that by now we thought we’d be halfway through.

In fact I know that the most important thing I should be doing, starting from today, is to simply enjoy every single one of these things for what they are, as and when they happen, because otherwise this whole life-switch-experiment of ours is going to dissolve into a big blob of wishing and dreaming and then the carriage will revert back to a pumpkin and I’ll be back in the room and wishing from another point of view entirely.

Let me just take one more peek at the calendar…