The family way

IMG_8902Can whoever reads this thing bear to have another slab of holiday-drenched copy? Is it trite to bang on about all these trips out of town? Can it be possible to fit in as much travel as we are? It’s not like we’re in a huge rush to stamp the world map with drawing pins, but I have to say I’ve used up my ecological share of air miles several times in the last 20 weeks alone, and let’s not total up the 30 months since we got here.

Oh, but that road trip from KL to Ipoh last week – now I’m back and safely typing away at my air-con desk, who really cares about those long queues on the motorway and the rattled-out traffic reports that we couldn’t quite catch, no matter how much we twiddled the knobs and dials to get less static and still only really getting the word ‘jam’. Now we’re back I’ve almost forgotten the rueful wiping of hands down sweaty necks as we sat perfectly still in the 35C heat, damply steaming, listlessly pointing the air con from footwell to steering wheel and back again, winding down the window only to wind it back up again as the searing tarmac heat poured in through the open gaps, with small boy sitting alone in the back, diligently making his water last because Mr and Mrs Stupid hadn’t bought any more at the airport. Memories he’ll keep forever, whether he wants to or not.

It didn’t even seem so bad at the time, truth be told. Even though I can’t remember being in such a massively long traffic jam, or such a very hot one, just to be out there was enough, on the road, away from Sing yet again, inching steadily north and when the traffic loosened up, about five miles short of our final destination, there were the pink Ipoh hills of home, and then our own rose-tinted memories unpacked themselves all over the car, which seemed cooler and fresher the closer we got to Rosy’s. Even when the gas indicator slipped to ‘critical’, dear Mr PC kept up a jovial patter and never once let on to me that we might actually be spending even longer than we thought on the road, as we failed to get into one petrol station after another thanks to the huge queues, finally and dustily sputtering into the very last one before Ipoh. (So that’s water and petrol on the list for next time, then).

Why hadn’t we spent the new year with Rosy before? Phuket and Jogjakarta – previous CNY stop-offs – are not obvious choices for hong baos and lo heis, and neither is a huge bit of Malaysia, but wonky old Ipoh was an explosion of new year cheer, dozy in town but truly festive in the suburbs with house after house covered in red lanterns and glittering tinsel. On winter car trips down the A30 to Cornwall my folks would persuade us girls to ‘Spot The Christmas Trees’, and this was no different: red lights decked every doorway in the suburbs, and even Aunty Rosy’s acid-green front porch was dotted with pretty red packets that she’d hung off all the little trees outside her front door.

All those times we’d been to the temple in town to visit the Tan grandparents, light joss sticks and stand side by side in reverential silence – here we were, right at one of the most important times of year for ancestral worship. What better time for both my boys to get a chance to pay their respects, as we have done for years back in Cornwall and Marlow? Ipoh was made for CNY.

Ah, though, you can’t do things twice, not really. I know if we go back next year and do the same double-pronged trip – a whizz round Ipoh for two days of noodle-stuffing, then a sprint back down the E1 to KL past row after row of rubber trees from a page out of Where the Wild Things Are, down the mucky ribbon of road that brings you into the heart of the city until we were right in the hot heart of KL, waltzing up the fancy towers, scouring endless malls and skipping down the pungent pavements that always remind me so much of a tropical Kentish Town – I know I won’t get the same buzz of elation that made this year’s trip, because it’s the realisation that something is wonderful for the very first time that makes the thing so special.

No harm in trying though, but next year we’ll book in advance and fly – more time for noodles, less time listening to Asia-pop in a hot hire car.

#GongXiFaCai til next year

Postcards from eve

It is lunar New Year’s Eve. Tonight, Singapore is quiet as families gather together for the reunion meal at the start of the 15-day festival to bring in the new year. Out goes the horse, and we become rams, goats or sheep, depending on what consumer branding you are following. I prefer sheep, for some reason (do I follow rather than lead, a little bit? Maaaaaybe).

This is our third Chinese New Year (CNY) in Singapore and at last I feel I am starting to really get it. I get the hanging lanterns and the songs, I even know a bit of one. I understand the rituals better and I think I understand the value of working like a beast all year and then having this one almighty celebration, unlike no other I’ve had in my closed-off life. SM’s music teacher couldn’t make tonight, as she had to see family; she left him a red packet too. The school bus tonight had a golden money pot on the front and red circular ‘ears’, one on each side. SM hopped down still dressed in his Mandarin outfit and stayed dressed in his black and red silk all night – our own red lanterns and bali fish kite are hanging up outside like stockings on 24th Dec. It’s all so festive.

I am upstairs in our main bedroom, surrounded by packing cases and the boys are downstairs watching telly. Special treat for SM to stay up a bit late, even though we have a very early flight to catch tomorrow. I have hidden a hong bao each for Aunty Rosy and Jonah – the oldest and youngest in the Asian bit of our family. They’re getting red bags full of chocolate, the bit of cash in those red packets, small pot of pineapple tarts each and two little metal goats on red ribbons each (even numbers, always), plus some oranges.

It feels like Christmas, and the build-up has been exciting: music in the shops, a relaxed feel about town, and the famed pre-new year dry breezy weather as a bonus. Last weekend, Chinatown was stuffed full of red danglers, paper pineapples, sheeps and goats and people getting their shopping in – (a bit like Truro town centre around about 23 December). The roads are now empty, schools closed, companies locked down. Our school only closed this afternoon, but plenty finished earlier. Today being CNY eve, businesses and shops closed at lunch as families returned home to meet and eat. The school bus was early this morning; roads empty for my run. It’s so peaceful.

Tomorrow we hop on a flight and head to Ipoh and Aunty Rosy, and then KL – four days of peaceful gluttony before re-entering the fray. I am delighted to be immersing myself in Asian culture this time round, and only wish we’d done this year on year, instead of choosing places that had nothing to do with the festival at all. I only hope Rosy stays awake long enough in the evenings to enjoy a bite or two with us all.

See you on the other side! Gong xi fa cai.IMG_8793

Thank you letters

To-Do lists as a blog post: dull as an old sock or as fascinating as the contents of the person in front’s shopping basket? Whatever: today I’m on about a shared task of SmallMonkey’s and mine. As well as the usual rounds of homework, room tidying and plate-clearing, he has a stack of thank you cards to write due to the recent bounty from Christmas and 10th birthday festivities. If we don’t start now we’ll be including them in the next lot of Christmas cards.

I’ve got some thanks to give as well, after a blog event I attended last week. If you check in regularly you’ll know I’m not a commercial writer, no banner ads and no hashtagging unless I’m Tweeting a link, and being a ‘vanilla’ blogger is not necessarily a good thing. I wanted to change the world with my blog, or at least make a bit of cash – turns out I’m mostly banging on about What I Did On My Holidays (not fishing, just saying). I’ve yet to work out what’s next.

No matter, I do what I do and it trolleys along nicely, and every now and then I’m invited to meet other people who blog, most of them more successfully than me, and it’s always good to hear how the other half do it.

Companies know that bloggers connect well, and Singapore lends itself charmingly to hosting such events, being a relatively small city, geographically, with a social set-up that tends to form miraculous chain-links in a Two Degrees Of Separation kind of way. Although my page is clear of business links I have done more networking in my two and a half years on the Red Dot than in the whole of the 43 years preceding our move. Isolated from familiar ground and with the jolt of the move still firing me with some enthusiasm, I am free to reinvent myself at every media event I attend, pressing my cards forward with two hands and connecting up the next morning. It is easy and fun and interesting, and it’s opened more doors for me than ever before.

So down to the event I popped, hosted at Edit Lifestyle (funky homeware store) and set up by the very clever Lucy from Lulabelle Lifestyle, who wanted to create a space in which people who rattle the keyboards could connect and hashtag themselves into a flurry of useful bonding. Aside from being a happy and fun evening, the event did just what it said on the tin, and I left two hours later with a wodge of new business cards, a stuffed goody bag and a Panama hat, plus several new blogger friends. I also reconnected with a work colleague from (clicks on CV to work it out) golly, about 17 years ago – that’s as long as I’ve known Mr PC. She still remembered my spot of bother over the wedding dress, and we’re meeting again for drinks in a few weeks. Awesome.

THANK YOU, then (because I’ve got to get mine in before SM, haven’t I?), to the following outlets who filled our chubby goody bags with items that are much nicer looking in reality than in the photo here. ClockwiseIMG_8765 from top left:

Pictured centre: Sweet croc dangler and discount voucher from Tamarind Living; funky ring and discount from Shiva Designs.

See? #swagtastic. That’s the next few birthdays sorted, plus a lot more padding in the old contacts book. Not a bad evening’s work. Consider yourself properly thanked, Lucy @ Lulabelle.

PS: Did I mention the Panama? (oh, the Panama)

Just saying…

My library card expired. At the same time I knew I was about to start a new research project for the next exhibition at TPM, so I thought I’d renew the card and get ready for some swotting at the same time. I had a load of books to give away so I took them to the public library up at Bishan, being a) a branch that was on my MRT line, b) a branch that has shelves for dropping off old books and picking up new ones, c) somewhere I still hadn’t yet explored.

Bishan was spacious, windy and smelled of lunch, which immediately put me in a bad mood because I’d started the stupid Farce Diet and was feeling the starvation just as I walked past Simply Bread’s croissant-rich air outlet.

A nice lady at the library counter confused me completely by telling me that the card itself had not expired but that I still needed to pay. This she helped me do at a ‘kiosk’ where you press in your card and wait, stamp in some codes, wait, out comes card chip facing up, wait, put card back in chip facing down, wait, slide, wait, tap in more words, buttons go ping, card pops out. Yes, that is why she helped me.

Having dropped off the books and updated my card I did a big smug tick-motion with my arm off the imaginary list and stepped gaily towards the MRT (ignoring mean old Simply Bread very bravely), but the stupid list got all needy again two weeks later, when I got a payment renewal notice by post. So today I popped in to my favourite Singapore library branch, the very central National Library on Victoria Street, partly to challenge my own private vertigo by going up and down in the glass lifts that are stuck to the outside of the building, but partly also to ask, politely, WTFpleaseandthankyou.

So I did that, nicely, and the nice lady (they are all VERY nice at libraries here, please go and see for yourselves) told me that in fact I didn’t need to pay anything until October and that everything was fine. She said that sometimes, just every now and then, they will send you a little note to remind you that at some point, in the future, you will probably need to pay something.