Back in five minutes

Dear Singapore,
Thank you for having me for the last ten months, it’s been so exciting. I’m just popping back to the UK for a few weeks. Please do all that smoky and rainy stuff while I’m gone and if you’re going to do the dry and bright thing then keep the lights on when I come back because I won’t be happy returning under a cloud.
I’m very grateful for a few key things that have cheered me this year, notably: the big blue skies on bright days and warm, balmy nights, plus absolute lack of need for tights; your big, bushy hedges, incredible banana plants, odd snake-like seeds; your bonkers morning bird calls, chit-chats in the kitchen, bats over the pool and cheeky monkeys at MacRitchie for my Wednesday walks with L.
Thank you for your exotic global positioning, and although your crushing humidity is a bit mad (three showers on a bad day is just wasteful), thanks all the same for allowing me to wear the minimum – I love it. Thanks for building the Central Line just before we arrived and for making my MRT the stop with the shops. Thanks for putting a beach at the end of the line and also for running loads of buses up and down Holland Road. (No thanks for making it rain just as I step out). Thanks for giving me alternative choices – MRT, cabs – when it does. (No thanks for making cabs impossible to get in the rain). Hey, though, thanks for creating such city-wide empathy for rainstorms that being late in a downpour is totally expected.
Thank you for Crystal Jade, Kinokunya, Cotton On, Charles & Keith, Simply Bread, Lim’s, Tangs, wet markets, dry buses, cool trains, hot swimming pools, little green lights over vacant car park spaces, natural vitamin D, condos with open-door policies, mostly clean public lavs (world take note), air con, taxi stands, food courts in malls, considerable lack of dog poo, weird and wonderful Sentosa, beautiful East and West Coasts, the awesome ACM, sweet TPM, posh buffets, tasty hawkers, ramen bowls, dim sum baskets, Esarn, Indochine Supertree, rickety river boats, the beautiful, mad surfboard, Sago Street, Amoy Street, the skate park at Scape, all my friend’s houses, my beautifully warm wooden deck and my (blush, ahem) Jacuzzi. Huge thanks to the StreetDirectory app, without which I would literally have been lost.
Some bits and pieces you might consider sorting out while I’m gone:
• websites that act like websites – a Facebook page IS NOT A WEBSITE
• shop assistants who can direct you to other places in the mall – you WORK HERE ALL DAY, surely you know more then me?
• dishes served at the same time – I want to eat WITH my family, not half an hour later
• booze we can afford – can’t stand flinching when I open the menu
• taxi drivers who don’t jam the pedals – I don’t get car-sick, it’s just that I’m often carrying trays of cupcakes
• shop assistants that leave me alone – do I have something stuck to my shoe? Am I on fire? No? Then go and stand over THERE because I have no idea what I want, WHICH IS WHY I’M BROWSING
• endless construction on every street corner – I think you might have enough new buildings, now

Ultimately, though, it’s been a right old journey. I know I’ll kick myself for saying this when I go all homesick again in a few months time, but out of all the places we could have relocated to, I’m glad it was you. I’ll never belong here, but at half time I can say it’s been an incredible journey and you have been so very welcoming. See you in a few weeks and good luck with the Haze; if it comes back I’ll blow fresh winds your way.

Love, Mrs PC

Smoke signals

I won’t do a rain dance, I won’t, I won’t. I’ve waited TEN LONG MONTHS for the famed ‘dry breezy’ season to get here and what happens? WHAT HAPPENS? A huge great bonfire, that’s what, smoke from Indonesian land-clearing wafting over our picket fence and tampering with our laundry. We need clouds and rain to put it out and measures are being put in place, with talk of an elegantly named process known as “cloud seeding“. Sounds romantic but it’s actually very necessary because the haze (a mild term that really doesn’t do justice to the grey menace hanging over this town) is very bad this time round, but to pray for rain: really? Rain, my old enemy, my nemesis and one of the main reasons for my hesitation in moving here (because surely going from one rainy country to another was just bonkers?).

Yet here I am checking the skies and crossing my fingers. I can’t see much up there, mind you, it is all white with a hint of yellowy brown. The sunrise over the last two days has had an odd sunset flavour; twilight segues into night much more gradually than the usual light/dark plummet; at lunchtime when the PSI reached an all-time peak I honestly couldn’t  see the buildings at the very end of our road. Now I know what ‘acrid’ means; now I know, having had mild asthma-type twinges for the last few years, what it is like to have a properly tight chest, to find proper relief from those little blue puffers I’ve had rattling in my handbag for years. The local pharmacies have run out of the coveted N95 masks (you can’t just stick a paper mask on, it could actually make things more uncomfortable), my eyes are itchy and I’ve had a sore throat for the last two days, but enough about me. If it’s like this for us I hate to think what it’s like over there, not to mention how the wildlife is coping: orangs and birds who have escaped the tree-felling will now be living in a toxic haze.

So a prayer for rain it is, then, for the remaining six days before we fly back to another kind of rain, the cold, UK kind. As SmallMonkey has been pulled from school this week, with threats of further closure hanging over next week, I will be stocking up on hip flasks as well as n95 masks (when I can find them).


I love the way Singapore allows you to return to things, unconsciously and easily. When Dad was here we did the park connectors walk, which both of us loved. It was a special day, the one with our first golden oriole and first snake (a pale green wiggly tree snake in Hort Park) and I know he will remember it with pleasure, as I do. Coming down to a stretch of main road we noticed some black and whites off to one side of the bridge, high up on a little lane partially hidden by greenery. We wondered who might live there, had a little chat about the history of these beautiful houses, remarked on what a great spot it was and continued on.

Fast forward two months and I’m following up a call to collect a barbecue cover that goes with the Weber I have just bought from a woman online. She would like me to pick it up this week, she is moving house. I look up the road: I can make the visit on Tuesday morning, fitting it in between lots of other small chores in other places I haven’t been to yet, and I set off with my favourite app and am soon hopping off a bus and thumbing the phone map, head down, focusing on the four square foot immediately in front of me until before too long I’m trudging up a leafy side road full of black and whites and realising…

Here’s a photo from the other side, Dad:



Everyone seems to be getting ready to leave the island. Some schools are already out. I can’t keep up with the daily diary of dates of departures, re-entries, patchwork trips across Europe, America, Australia, mental maps of who goes where and when. By the time we leave in two weeks the bulk of my friends will already be gone. By the time we get back at the start of August, those who left early will already be back here in Sing and the children reinstalled in their schools, and all the Brits who break up later like me but didn’t leave as soon as us, but a little bit later, will be left behind in Blighty just starting their UK sojourn. Exhausting. It’s travel maths, that’s what it is, and I can’t compute.

Now I think of it, when we landed last August things were eerily quiet. It was like Hampstead in summertime but on a huge, huge scale – a mass exodus and the locals all breathing tetchy sighs of relief and enjoying the empty pavements and roads. I am already looking beyond the trip to the flight back here and for the most part I think I’ll be OK about coming back again, if only to sit down after a busy four weeks of catching up. I do wonder if I’ll go through that g-force re-entry all over again, with the same sensations I had last time: homesickness, culture shock, loneliness and that claustrophobic far-away feeling of being stuck way down at the bottom of a long sock like a forgotten Christmas tangerine. I guess we’ll soon see.

Birthdays the abroad way

‘Enjoy a different birthday abroad,’ said D in her birthday card to me last week. Here’s a snap of the breakfast table with chiffon mocha cake (note the Southeast Asian ‘chiffon’ slant) and just at the back there you can seeIMG_2125 the birthday bill from our school bus company for next term. We’ve certainly never had one of those before.

The royal line-up of events I always organise for myself spanned the usual week (I’m Gemini, it’s always got to last longer than the royal coronation celebrations) but this year involved a Chinese reflexology treatment, Thai lunch and dinner at a rooftop restaurant looking out towards Indonesia. I even had a bit of a different birthday song (an extra ‘Happy Birthday’ instead of my name – that’s an ‘over here’ thing as well). I am looking for Chinese-themed thank you cards to keep the game going.

So D, you can be sure that I did have a bit of a different birthday abroad indeed and xie xie to all those involved. I’ll see you in a few weeks to do it the British way: put the kettle on.