Show me the money!

Like many other women here in Singapore my journey here began purely on a – and I HATE this term, so please forgive me – ‘trailing spouse’ basis. I had no work to come to and therefore no finances of my own as such. Yes, I know, really it’s ‘our’ money – but you know what I mean right?

Trailing spouse funny

Hell yeah!

 

As a result I am ashamed to say I seem to have got swallowed up in to the land of ‘leave the finances to him indoors’ despite the fact I know I’m much more organised than he is and therefore probably could do as good of a – if not better – job of organising them.

That was until recently when I was talking to a friend and lamenting the fact that I no longer had my ‘own’ bank account. She questioned why I’d given up something that I’d told her I clung to throughout my working and married life before moving here. The answer? Because I was told (or heard, or read or maybe even dreamt) that unless you have a Employment Pass here  you can’t open a bank account. She laughed at me. Yes, my friend laughed in my face. Apparently that’s a ridiculous thing to think. I was a tad embarrassed. So I decided it was time I got myself back in to financial control.

Making a financial plan makes perfect sense

Financial planning is a good idea

I started asking questions about ISA’s and mortgages and ways to invest. My husband – who’s always open about our finances – answered where he could. Funny thing was some of the stuff we were both not sure of. So I had to go further.

I joined a talk at Woolf Works held by a lady called Amanda Edwards who runs a company called Tidy My Money. At the talk, myself and a dozen or so other women listened to a fabulously confident lady called Andrea Kennedy explain why financial stability must come before financial wealth and that financial security between the two.

Andrea is a financial advisor – a job many of us have learnt to mistrust. She dispels this fear swiftly. In fact, she prefers the term financial planner, something I now understand is quite different. Interestingly though she also has a masters in financial psychology. Ooh and I love an ‘ology (booby prize for first person to name that ad!) Therefore, she speaks a lot about the psychology of how we deal with finances, and why we often are our own worst enemies.

I’m sure many of you have heard the horror stories of women who have sadly split up from partners whilst living away from their home country and been stranded. No money, no home, no way of supporting themselves or their family. When marriages break down like this it’s often with hurt and pain all round, so sitting down calmly to discuss who gets what is unlikely to happen.

Dollar bills

$$$ – can help or hinder the Terrible D’s

It’s for this reason – and many more -that both Amanda and Andrea strongly encourage all women to deal with their finances now and in the open. Discuss with your partner what would happen if something awful happened. Be that death, divorce or disability (or the Terrible D’s as Amanda calls them). Make your finances as transparent as possible. Know where everything is and keep on top of things.

Being comfortable talking about money is also key. I always squirm and avoid the subject at all costs – after all, it’s just not the done thing is it? But, I can see that it should be amongst family and loved ones. Andrea also gave us food for thought about teaching our children about money, explaining that her children were given money to invest from a young age. Wow! Teaching them from an early age is the best way – why are we all so surprised? Why are so few of us doing it?

For me, it also means getting my head around the jargon and terms used. For someone who is good with words I switch off totally when those words are even vaguely related to numbers. I still struggle with gross and net!  So, I’m gaining back a little bit of independence in terms of having my own bank account again (well, I will do when I have actually ventured to the bank which is a whole other issue. Paperwork and bureaucracy anyone?)

I will do it though. Nothing to do with planning a trip to Nashville, honest!

Tom Cruise, Show me the money

Hopefully money talk doesn’t lead to shouting at the top of your lungs

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My trek to The Tigers Nest

I’ll be honest, trekking isn’t a past time I’d choose (what are you laughing at?)

In fact, apart from a trip to Wales in my teens I’m pretty sure trekking has never featured in my life before now. Unless walking the dog around the local woods counts?

When I decided to go to Bhutan it was always part of the plan to see the Tigers Nest – but honestly, this was purely because it was suggested to me as a must see. A Buddhist monastery that clings to a granite cliff more than 3,000 above sea level and apparently every Bhutanese person should take a pilgrimage there at least once, as should every visitor if they can. So in for a penny and all that!

Tigers Nest

The Tigers Nest perched on the edge of a very craggy rock

Really I went with little expectations and even less knowledge. It’s said that ignorance is bliss – this saying could not have been more true in this instance. I naively asked my guide Thinley how difficult the trek was. He laughed and said it depends on each person, but not to worry. Another guide I talked to told me the worst part were the steps at the end – around 800 of them. What he failed to mention was that you had to do them twice – obviously! There and back!

The morning of the trek we drove through Paro and I was struck by how pretty a town it is compared to Thimpu. Not as heavily built up, more land around and without the bustle.

As we turn a bend Thinley points to a dot in the distance that is apparently where we are heading. I squint. Mmm…put it this way. I couldn’t even make out the temple.

Tigers Nest in distance

It’s up there you say?

Having parked up and acquired a walking stick we begin the trek. I don’t know what I was expecting but it was not at all what I got. An open expanse of land that could be someone’s garden (if your garden looks like barren land at the bottom of the foothills of the Himalayas that is) is where you head through to start the trek upwards. Oh, and when I say upwards, I mean upwards. No, you’re not rock climbing – but it’s not a gentle stroll let’s be clear on that.

We pass a water wheel housed inside a white building that looked like the woodchoppers cottage from childhood fairy tales. Complete with icy cold stream and wooden bridge. Honestly, I think Grimm himself couldn’t have created a more fairytale like picture.

Water Wheel

The faiytale ‘cottage’

Thinley had offered me the option of taking a pony up (they only take you half way) and I scoffed at the suggestion. After all, I was fit woman in her prime – ha! as if I’d need to be carried up a little incline. We often had to stop to let lines of ponies coming down pass by. Interestingly some of them seemed to choose their own path and didn’t mind climbing the most awkward way down so I was feeling pretty good about my choice to use my own two feet.

Ponie rides half way

Ponies can help you half way

Just ten minutes later I was regretting the pony decision. You see, it’s not that it’s a difficult climb per se. It’s just a really bloody difficult walk. Obviously you have to factor in the altitude – which was what got to me I think. (No, it was not that I’m very unfit) I literally had to stop every ten minutes to take a breather. The first half dozen times I was a little embarrassed at my tardiness and laughed it off, the next few times I apologised to Thinley for my stop-starting. After that I didn’t care – I had to breathe for Gods sake!

Each time the every gracious Thinley simply stopped with me and we took in the view – and a few dozen photos. So not really a bad thing to stop at all. As the path snakes up through the pine forest the views over Paro are amazing.

The path is a little treacherous in places. No hair raising drops, which is what I had been having nightmares about the night before. You just had to watch your footing, it’s dry and gravelly after all. But nothing the many sprightly elderly trekkers that we passed couldn’t deal with. There was a sense of camaraderie whilst walking amongst other trekkers too. A simple nod of the head (often talking was out of the question due to lack of breath) that said “I feel your pain, but keep going” or a quick “hi, how you doing?” as people passed you on their way down. A couple of “keep it up, it’s worth it” were thrown around too.

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Just a few minutes to catch my breath

I played tag with a Japanese couple who seemed to be going at a similar pace. I’d pass them, stop, they’d pass me, they’d stop… The guy was playing buddhist prayers through his phone and this rhythmic chanting was fantastically uplifting and completely in keeping with the walk. I pushed to keep up with him at times just to listen to the comfort of the prayers. Funnily enough I saw them both at the airport a few days later and we greeted each other like long lost friends – even though we only ever exchanged facial expressions on that day.

On the way up there are rest stops where you can sit and admire the view. Prayer flags are strung in many places giving a real sense of calmness to everywhere. I also spot small pots here and there hidden in the rocks. Thinley explains they are ‘Tsatsas’  which are stupa-shaped clay statues that sometimes have the ashes of loved ones embedded in them, these are meant to liberate their souls.

Tsatsas

Tsatsas nestle amongst the rocks

After an hour we stop at an opening which all but shouts ‘here, take a look at how beautiful I am’ and is home to stunning giant prayer wheel that looks out over the valley and framed with prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

Tea & Biscuits

Tea and biscuits – a welcome break half way!

Halfway and time for tea

Half way up and there’s a welcome place to stop and rest – and have a cuppa (as you do up a Bhutanese mountain). For me this rest stop was also somewhere to contemplate the fact that the worst was yet to come. The dreaded steps!

Oh, and have a comfort break, where I took the obligatory toilet selfie (not going to beat that one in a hurry!)

After fifteen minutes or so I could put it off no longer. So, with Thinley grinning like someone who knew something I didn’t, we headed to the white flag where the steps began (and dozens of sweating, bedraggled people gather either before or after climbing the steps).

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Just some of the steps…

Seeing the wooden steps snake down, around, down, around and then back up the other side of the mountain is daunting to say the least. Apparently it’s only in the last ten years that the hand rail has been put in place so I was dutifully grateful for small mercies. In fact, Thinley mentioned that the steps were an add on too – previously the only way to the monastery was picking your way on a precarious path. Again I was grateful.

As it turned out the steps were, for me, the easier part. It was simply stepping up and down right? I still stopped every ten minutes and my strange brain decided counting the steps as I went was a good idea. Distraction or motivation? I’m still not sure. I counted 390 up and 430 down. I’m pretty sure I got confused a couple of times but the numbers are not far out.

The waterfall at the bottom is a welcome distraction too and you can’t help but wonder at it’s power. Although no Niagara falls, the fact you know it’s path runs a very long way – and that you can spot it’s baby streams as you walk up the mountain is breathtaking. I also think back to the fairy tale waterwheel at the bottom of the trek.

Viewpoint on trek

The viewpoint before the steps

Of course, once the Tigers Nest is within touching distance it’s all about the finish line. Luckily we made it just in time as the monastery closes for lunch at 1pm. Yes, it took me almost three hours to get there (we left just before 9:30am).

We went inside the monastery (and climbed even more steps!) and Thinley told me how this was the birthplace of Bhutanese Buddhism as Guru Rinpoche flew here from Tibet on the back of a Tigress and came to meditate here for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. He showed me the underground cave and I lit a butter lamp to honour lost loved ones in the intensely hot, glowing Butter Lamp room. We also visited the altar room where many come and offer their prayers. Others – like me – simply stand and take in the amazing display of offerings and the famous bronze Padmasambhava (or Guru Rimboche). This statue was the only thing to survive a fire in 1998 that destroyed everything else in the monastery! I also sat and spent a few minutes meditating as best I could, just to connect with the spirituality of the place.

You are not allowed to take bags or cameras in to the monastery which means it’s somewhere that naturally seems to imprint on your mind. As it was about to close we didn’t take in the breathtaking views as much as we could have. Instead, we started our descent back ready for the ascent up the 800 steps. On the way this time we stopped at a fantastic look out and I dutifully posed for what can only be described as travel photographer porn. Beautiful! The view, not me!

The walk back was, without doubt a LOT easier than the walk there. I got chatting to lovely gentleman on the way down and we said our goodbyes only to meet up ten minutes later at the cafe where lunch was laid on. A very tasty – and very welcome – vegetarian curry buffet. Just what the doctor ordered!

lunch on trek

Lunch time – a delicious buffet is laid on

Coming down is tough on your knees though so the walking stick comes in handy. But it’s much easier on the lungs and not as hard work as it all downhill. Again, be careful of your footing. On our way down we hung the prayer flags I had been given at Changangkha Temple. The ever helpful Thinley thought nothing of pulling of his shoes and shinning up a tree to find the perfect spot to hang them. I truly felt like luck would be on my side leaving my prayers in such a spiritual place.

As the fairy tale water wheel came in to view my sense of achievement grew. I’d done it. Five hours of sweat, groans, puffing and huge wows and we’d made it. I spent the journey back to the hotel grinning from ear to ear. Literally.

I’d climbed a mountain!

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The end is in sight

 

 

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Looking out at the view

Is this not the perfect place to sit and think about what you’ve just achieved – and take a photograph that will instantly become your profile pic..

PHOTOGRAPHS

Trekking up to the Tigers Nest really is a photographers dream. Here are some more of the shots I took.

 

 

Please do click through to the links to read about the rest of my time in Bhutan.

Here for how it all began

Here for sightseeing in Thimpu

Here for my volunteering experiences

 

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback…

Toilet humour

When you move to another country you have to make new friends. Fact. But what you may not realise is that you will still rely on your friends back home to be there for you. Even though they can’t actually be there. You need to find a way to keep the connection going. For me this meant the start of what became known as ‘The Toilet Selfie.’

Yes, you heard right. The Toilet Selfie. Say it fast, it sounds great fun! Do it fast. It’s even funnier!

This craze has built up quite a following over the past two years, with not just me indulging in this rather odd pastime. Oh no! Obviously my friends at home have been ‘involved’  But also some friends here too. Then there’s my mum, my friends mums, our daughters, friends of friends and their daughters. I don’t think any man has got involved yet (although my Son has snuck in one). But there’s still time.

So let’s go back to the beginning. It started with a Whatssap group amongst a few of my closest friends back home. Initially I’d message a few times a week (maybe more) and fill them in on what I was doing. They heard about the day I screamed the house down when I bought a chicken complete with head, feet and claws, they knew I’d developed a look akin to Monica from Friends in that episode in Barbados. I told them my triumphs – making it to the supermarket and back without getting lost. My failures – THAT waxing story.

In return they kept me in the loop of things going on back home. Just a quick “hi, how are you?” made my day.

Then one night very early on hubby and I had been invited out with a group we didn’t know. It was one of those social events organised by an expat group. All very nice, all very friendly. Except after an hour or so I really wasn’t enjoying myself. I went to the loo and just happened to get a ping from a friend in our Whatssap group asking how I was doing. I sat in the loo for a while having  ‘a virtual chat’ about how I was so hot I could melt as I’d stupidly gone out in jeans, how the night wasn’t that great etc. etc.

Then, for reasons I’m still not sure of, I decided to send a selfie of me looking frizzy haired and sweaty, whilst I was in (NOT ON I hasten to add!) the loo.

Of course, they all could see I was in the loo and laughed at my insalubrious choice of setting for my self pitying selfie moment. From then on it became almost a challenge to find a worst setting for my toilet selfies.

But, as funny as this was, it went deeper than that. When you are out meeting new people, it can be quite hard work. Not all the time. But sometimes. Sometimes you just don’t click. People you thought you’d get on with you find you have nothing in common with. At those times it’s like a comfort to pop off and have a quick chat with my buddies back home, who know me, who get me and who always lift my spirits.

After a while though it was no longer about that. It also became about celebrating being out and having fun. The Toilet Selfie became funnier, more drunken sometimes yes, but the smiles were real. Things had improved and my lovely friends at home were there for that too.

When I let my closest friend here in Singapore in on my secret hobby she insisted I blog it. Apparently it’s a ‘lovely story about friendship’ not to mention great fodder for the funniest pics you’ll see on here. Toni, how did we never get a pic of us having a Toilet Selfie?

Having thought about it, she’s right. So, as a thank you to my girls back home – Victoria, Hazel, Tracey, Liz, Kellie and although late to the party, always there in spirit, Gill. For holding me up when I needed it most. For being the kind of friends who I can come back to and pick up right where I left of. For being daft enough to find taking a picture in a toilet hilariously funny and heart warming all at the same time.

To those of you going out tonight with people you don’t know…

Tonight could be the night you meet your Singapore Bestie, or Besties. If not, pop to the loo and message your friends back home and let them know you’re thinking of them. Better still take a little pic of yourself and send it to them and wait for the funny comments to come in. If you do though, you have to send it to me too as I own all rights to Toilet Selfies. Fact!

And to those new friends I’ve made here. Well done on making it through the first night out with me. If we haven’t already – fancy a toilet selfie one night?

NB: Apologies for gratuitous pictures of me all over this piece but really, there’s no better way of explaining the phenomena.  Also apologies to those friends who have been featured without first gaining permission, I tried to ask most of you. Feel free to ignore all future Whatssap message from me.

Kick Back on Koh Samui

 

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

A room with a view indeed

Many years ago, before kids, marriage and responsibility my husband and I – quite adventurously for the time – decided we wanted to go to Thailand. More than that, we wanted to go to an island that was pretty unknown then called Koh Samui. We booked a flight with an airline called Britannia  and as this was the early 90’s and there were no direct flights from the UK , we stopped to refuel in Bahrain. I can picture the arrival in to Koh Samui so well even now – we swooped in on a strip of a runway and walked through a hut with a straw roof to collect our bags from the room they called the baggage area.

The next two weeks were, I remember, absolute bliss. Tropical beaches, lovely hotel, nights spent drinking cocktails on the beach listening to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, sunshine every day and tropical storms that blew away as quickly as they arrived. By the hotel were a few bars and restaurants to wander to every night and we were welcomed by the friendliest, warmest people you can imagine.

We talked about going back for years. We were both convinced the island – having obviously now grown to be tourist hotspot –  couldn’t live up to our possibly rose-tinted memories. If we were going to go back it had to be for something – or somewhere – special.

Enter Samujana…

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

There’s special… and then there’s Samujana

 

Sat atop a hillside on the northeastern coast of Koh Samui and overlooking a picture perfect cove, this resort (and I use this term loosely as it’s nothing like a ‘resort’) is more than special. Each of the 20 or so luxury villas have been designed by award winning architect Gary Fell of Gfab Architects and are very cleverly built amongst the original rock outcrops and indigenous trees of the hillside – and they all have jaw dropping sea views.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

All of the villas offer stunning views of the coral bay

Every villa looked amazing on the website. Infinity pools, private gyms, the talk of comfy slumber areas and extensive living and dining areas. We also loved the sound of ‘the latest in audio and media amenities.’

Ahem, excuse me. This was the undersell of undersells – see excited children later on.

We flew with Asia airlines, our first time with this particular airline and we were pleasantly surprised. Good service, plane was comfortable and as spacious as you’d expect on a short haul economy airline. A special mention though has to go to the safety video. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it – but if there were awards for such things, Air Asia would win for entertainment, comedy and originality!

The airport had changed – there was more than one hut and a ‘street’ of shops and even a proper baggage belt now. But still it was without any of the stress and manic feel of most other airports and it still held the same quaint charm it had all those years ago.

We were met at the airport and led to our bus where the fun started immediately. As we pulled away we were asked if wanted music – of course we did! On went the music and disco lights and up went the volume and all of a sudden – much to the kids delight – we were on a party bus. It was hilarious and surreal at the same time. Shame the villa was only a ten minute journey as the kids were having so much fun.

Coming in to Samujana doesn’t feel anything like driving in to a resort. Villas aren’t packed together fighting for the best view and it’s almost as if you are being given a neck massage as you pull up. Honestly it has, you know, THAT kind of feel.

Villa 22, which if I tell you was originally planned as two villas, will give you an idea of how big it is, was perched just around the first bend.  We were immediately welcomed by our beaming villa host X (yes that was his name – when I asked how to spell that he grinned at me and said “with an X, no more”) who took us on a guided tour of the villa and made us the first of many refreshing lime sodas.

Gym, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

For the gym bunnies

Anyone listening to us as we were shown around would have been intrigued immediately. Lots of sharp intakes of breath (the size of out bathroom), oohs and ahhs (our own treatment room), squeals of delight (a full size pool table AND a tennis table) and Wows! (a private cinema room with thousands of films to choose from). The excitement caused by the state of the art gym and huge infinity pool complete with inflatable turtles was infectious.

Cinema room, Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Movie night takes on a whole new meaning here!

Honestly, having seen all six bedrooms and nine bathrooms and then settling ourselves in to just two next to each other, we did say this would be much more suited to an extended family gathering rather than just the four of us on a quick family holiday. We would be literally rattling around. But that was ok, we don’t mind a rattle!

It wasn’t long before the kids were diving in the pool and hubby and I were relaxing on the sun beds smiling smugly at our good fortune to have found somewhere so amazingly stunning. From there things just got better and better and more and more relaxed.

With our own private cook available in the villa breakfast was a feast – of many courses. Granola, cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries as well as a selection of cooked food from omelettes to french toast, we were totally spoilt for choice. After the first morning we realised not to scarf down everything laid out for us on the table as this was just the start. X and our sweet housekeeper/chef would continue to bring out food. Literally we ate like Kings.

Lunch could be ordered from X too with a wide and varied menu to choose from. The chef can prepare a barbecue or a feast, whatever you want, you could have. We chose to eat out most nights and again X was on hand to recommend restaurants and arrange transport to the local town of Chaweng, or wherever it was we wanted to go. He even took us himself in his own car when he could.

We spent the week in total zen like relaxation. Reading, snoozing and playing in the pool with the kids when they weren’t playing table tennis or watching another movie in the cinema. Music is fed through speakers throughout the villa and you can choose to hook up your own music or listen to what is there. X had a penchant for soft reggae it seemed as often we’d have that playing – which seemed to suit the laid back mood perfectly.

Skimming stones, Koh Samui

The ideal beach for a spot of skimming stones

Samujana Villas, private beach, Koh Samui

Samujana’s private beach

All of the staff we encountered whilst there could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. From the guys watering the grounds to the security men at the gate. We took a walk down to the private beach one day – carrying a bag prepared for us by X with water and towels in – and spent an enjoyable hour or so skimming stones and swinging on the tree swing that’s hung there. The beach wouldn’t win any awards for beauty as it’s very rocky and the sand is more shingle, but it’s not a bad place to while away some time.

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Ssh! Don’t tell Nanna.

We were surprised to see X on our walk back who had kindly come along to carry the bag back and offered us a lift on the back of his moped. Now, don’t tell Nanna, but both children were delighted to jump on the back one at a time and be whizzed (carefully and considerately!) up the short hill to the villa. He even came back and offered hubby and I a lift. We declined as figured we needed the exercise.

If you’re feeling energetic there is a tennis court and Samujana also offer a number of different experiences should you wish to indulge yourself. These include chartering a luxury 43ft catamaran, diving and snorkelling and cooking classes or yoga. Last year saw the launch of  Samujana’s Wellbeing experience which offers bespoke wellness and fitness services working with some of the top therapists and experts on the island. A great idea if you want to kickstart a healthy regime or re-boot your body.

We did neither I’m sorry to say. We just relaxed and made the most of it. We explored the island a bit too as wanted to see how much it had changed. And there’s no denying it has. Chaweng is now a town teaming with restaurants, bars, massage parlours, tattoo studios, boutiques and nail bars, to name but a few. Tourists are aplenty and the atmosphere is a mix of hippy student backpackers and family holiday. But go a little deeper and you and still find the charm of old Koh Samui. Simple villages with a couple of places to eat and locals going about their daily business.

Samujana Villas, Koh Samui

Lots of space to spread out and relax.

We had the most wonderful week at Samujana and will look forward to going back one day. Next time though we’ll take a few people to enjoy the stunning villa with us. In fact, we both said what a fabulous place it would be for a celebration like a ‘big’ birthday, family reunion or a wedding. With a dining table that seated 12 comfortably, huge comfortable sofas aplenty, six bedrooms and nine bathrooms it easily has the room. Even if you have little ones -as long as you were cautious with the stairs and the pool – it would be great as there was plenty of grass area to play on and of course, being Samujana they could even offer a nanny service to help you relax a little more.

Obviously with this kind of luxury comes a larger than life price tag. But if you were sharing the cost with one or even two other families it really is worth every penny (in fact, it’s worth it for a special treat regardless).

Thanks for having us Samujana, it was truly something special.

Shells on beach, Koh Samui

Even the shells on the beach were picture perfect

 

This song will always say “Koh Samui” to me.

 

 

Taking the shock out of shopping in Singapore

Shopping for clothes in Singapore

Don’t give up, you’ll find clothes in Singapore

There’s no getting away from it, Asian women are beautifully packaged. Alabaster skin, tiny waists, perfectly proportioned legs, all makes for a lovely petite bundle. So it should come as no surprise that the shops here in Singapore are geared up for these dainty lovelies. This can make shopping for your average sized, non-asian, expat lady, a little difficult.

You’ve heard the stories of women who have left stores shamefaced after being told they are ‘too big’ for anything in the store. Maybe you yourself have been turned away from that lovely boutique with a ‘no, cannot!’ echoing in your ears?

What’s too big you may ask? Think anything above a UK size 4!

I’m painting a dark picture I know — it’s not all bad. The staff aren’t necessarily being rude or obnoxious. They tend to be, how do I say this? Honest?  There’s no beating around the bush, they tell it like it is. Not to upset you or be mean, just to save time. I actually find it quite refreshing and prefer it to the fawning “oh that looks gorgeous” from a clearly deranged shop assistant in the UK as you stare at yourself in a banana yellow shapeless shift dress. As long as it’s not that time of the month, or year, I can put up with a bit of frankness

Clothes too small

Sometimes clothes shopping in Singapore can be tough!

I’ve had my moments here for sure. I remember one time whilst shopping for a dress in a department store I’d picked up quite a few that had caught my eye — always a good start. A sales assistant came up to me and asked if I’d like to try them on.  As she showed me to the changing room she deftly removed a number of my choices with a:

“No lah, not for your size.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, “It’s my size on the label.”

“No ma’am. For Asian women yes. Not you.”

She blatantly looked me up and down as she said it. I felt like I’d been scanned. With that she wafted off.

But, I had to get a dress so I had no choice but to soldier on. As I was squeezing my butt in to one of the two dresses I was left with, the assistant arrived with quite a few similar dresses for me to try, explaining that these were all ‘my size.’

It turns out she was spot on. The couple I’d chosen were all wrong — tight across the chest, arms too short, so not my size. But the selection she’d made were much better. I came home with two.

Shoppes at Marina Bay sands

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands – take your credit card!

So, ladies, don’t be disheartened. Take advice from the sales staff (if you can get past the initial fear of being ‘too large, lah!’)  Get to know the stores that stock your size.  Find the malls that are aimed at the expat – Tanglin Mall and Cluny Court are two of the most popular. There are also quite a few big chains here – H&M, Esprit, Marks & Spencer, Zara – that stock your average expat sizes. Also you have to front it out and ask for larger sizes as often they do but they are not out on display.

If all else fails, order from the cool, air-conditioned, comfort of your own home. Asos, Boohoo, Next, Macy’s, Saks, Zalora, to name but a few, all deliver to Singapore. Some of them even offer free delivery. Just be sure to measure yourself and check sizing first as returns can be a pain.

Happy Shopping!

If you have bosoms, and need a new bra, God help you. Really, that’s a whole other issue…

Esprit clothes shop

Esprit stock a good selection of sizes

PLEASE LADIES WE ALL NEED YOUR HELP

Let’s make a list of places that stock a great selection of sizes. I’ll start:

Tangs in Orchard

Esprit all over the island

Most of the clothes shops in Tanglin Mall.

Travelling with kids

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Have kids, will travel.

Most people agree that travelling with kids is hard.

Actually, most people except me.

I don’t find it hard travelling with kids per se. Yes, there are things you have to consider that you don’t when going it alone or with other grown ups. But, it always puzzles me when people use this as an excuse not to travel – especially abroad. Even when ours were young babies I never felt we shouldn’t get on that plane. In fact, I maintain that travelling with certain grown ups is WAY harder (ahem Mr 5gomad)!

Before you all start yelling at me, yes there’s a lot to think about. When you have toddlers, I agree, it is not the easiest thing to sit an airport for hours, confine them in a chair for even more hours and insist they keep the noise level to minimum. But honestly, it’s not unachievable. My motto is – what’s the worst that can happen? So they scream for 10 hours solid and you have a nervous breakdown. One cocktail around the pool and a few hours in a kids club later you’ll soon forget the toruture.

I remember a nanny friend of mine saying once that it’s not really much different to spending a day indoors in front of the TV on one of those ‘not in the mood’ days or when under the weather. Also, let’s face it, how many children would object to being given permission to spend hours watching cool films or playing games?

So, with that in mind here are my tips for travelling with children – young or old. Bear in mind, these are from personal experience, I haven’t googled this list and I’m sure there are plenty more practical ones like take loads of games, etc. But it’s not my style to copy and paste.

Before you go

Get them used to the idea of travelling. Show them where you’re going, let them get excited about what you are going to see, do and where you are staying. This is often overlooked as we forget that unless it’s Disney Land really, kids aren’t that interested in the sound of visiting Ang Kor Wat or relaxing in the Maldives. So show them stuff that you know they’ll be interested in – for my three it’s a decent looking pool and a nice hotel with maybe a local show thrown in and they’re sold.

As soon as their little legs can walk they can carry a bag. Even if all it holds is a comfy/baggy/soft toy type thing. Yes, you’ll curse the number of bags you have and you’ll curse me for suggesting this, but bear with me. When you’ve run out of room for the extras you’ve acquired along the way (mini knife and fork anyone?) and have a handy bag to put them in, you’ll be grateful. Also, when those little legs become the big strapping legs of a 18 year old you’ll be thankful for that extra bag carrier let me tell you.

Also, if it’s a special bag that always goes on holiday with you it’s a way of letting them know what’s coming up. Great if you have kids with special needs as it’s a way to help them feel more comfortable with the whole travelling issue.

Talking of special needs. If you have a child that has any kind of SN then don’t be backwards in coming forwards. Even with my Son who is now 15 I still board when the ‘those travelling with young children’ announcement is made (if I feel he has had enough). I don’t care if everyone tutts or sniffs around me. I explain our situation politely to the land crew and they are more often than not happy to accommodate.

Depending how far in advance you have booked the trip, if you can, avoid going to the cinema or watching newly released films in the run up to the holiday. That way you won’t get on the flight and hear cries of ‘Oh, I’ve seen that’. Having said that, what kid doesn’t like to watch the same film more than once?

Short haul flights

Load up the iPad with a couple of films, a couple of episodes of their favourite TV show and some games that they haven’t played before. Make it clear that the iPad cannot come out before the ‘magic light’ goes off overhead (the seatbelt sign) – maybe even say that the pilot him or herself has asked for this.

Take some snacks – this is a no brainer, but one I’ve often got caught out on as I’ve assume the children’s meal will be appealing enough. No! Nuts, bread rolls, easy to eat fruit (no peel to fiddle with), crackers and so on are all easy to carry, don’t need to be kept cool and travel ok. Obviously some countries restrict what you take in so watch out for that.

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This is what we hope for.

Don’t worry about everyone else around you. Oh yes, you will have seen the raised eyebrows and despairing looks of the guy behind/in front as you cajole little Johnny in to his seat whilst trying to strap tiny Johnny to your lap. So what? He should just think himself lucky he hasn’t got to do anything but listen to them – and maybe put up with some thrown food or a kick in the back every now and then. Don’t assume that your fellow passengers are berating you for having the audacity to bring children on a flight. Most of the time you’ll see sympathetic nods, grateful sighs and knowing smiles. Also, don’t assume it’s the people not travelling with kids who are the worst. I was once on a flight when another mum turned round and told me to tell my son to be quiet – she was travelling with her older daughter. I was shocked, how dare she break the code of motherhood? I asked him to be quiet whilst passing him a tambourine. That’s Karma that is.

Take along an extra pillow/soft toy/head prop if you can. The more comfortable you can make yourself and the kids, the better. You could also get one of those foot pillows if you can find one, I’ve never used them but they look pretty cool.

Make deals before you leave (if able to understand this). If they want to watch 5 films, they have to have a nap in between each one.You might get lucky and one of those naps will turn in to a longer sleep. If not, let them watch another film and they can make up for it whilst you’re sitting round the pool tomorrow. If they want to play some game for an hour, they have to sit still whilst you eat your (awful but always seem to eat it anyway) meal. Whatever works for you. Find your currency with them and barter!

Long haul

All of the above and then some! 

Face the fact that they will moan a bit. Or even a lot. Once you get your head around this it really is a matter of getting on with it. I moan on a plane, my husband moans on a plane. Why shouldn’t the kids? Just keep distracting them with another film, game, promise of ice cream when you get there. Honestly, lower your expectations 50% and you’ll be good to go.

Let them wander up and down at some point if they want to. Try to avoid the time when most people are sleeping, but don’t feel you have to pin them down the whole time. Unless, of course, you’ve got one of those children who charge up and down like a train – then strap them in and don’t let them move! (I’m kidding) Take them to the area near the emergency exits (resist all urges to open the door, no matter how bad it’s been up until then! Think of the cocktails woman, stop!) There you can let them see out the window without clambering over anyone. Maybe play eye spy? If you happen to be over an ocean it’ll be short game.

Wear comfy clothes. I know this sounds obvious but really, wear something you can lay in, be laid on in, that isn’t tight or irritating in any way. Something that when you have to stretch to the overhead locker for the millionth time you’re not self conscious of showing a part of you not normally on view.

Carry headache tablets. Just do.

If your child suffers from that hideous ear issue when flying there are a few ways to help this – all have varying results depending on the child. The usual sucking on a bottle (mine ALWAYS seemed to finish the whole thing just before we actually got up), sucking sweets, chewing on a teether. But I’ve also heard wearing ear plugs helps too. Google it – there’ll be other ideas out there. Try them and see what works for your child.

If you have a pukey child carry wipes and forage for all the sick bags you can before you take off. In my recent experience the cabin crew take a bit longer nowadays to come to the aid of a travel sick child and also cannot touch you or them. So they will throw lots of paper at you and then rather handily ask you to fill out a form in between catching puke. So just be prepared. Oh, and secret tip, the blanket they give you catches A LOT of sick if necessary!

One final piece of advice – start early. If you are a couple who like to travel why not travel with your kids? We started fairly easily with short haul flights to France from the UK and before we knew it we were heading to Oz with two young boys. Maybe it wasn’t a stroll in the park but whatever the flight was like I can’t remember so it couldn’t have been too bad. What I do remember – as do the boys – is seeing an amazing country and having a fantastic holiday though.

In my humble opinion, travel is the best gift we can give our children in terms of experiences. Without getting on with it, here’s just some of the things we would have missed…

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Scuba diving with your cousin.

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Searching for India Jones.

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Idyllic deserted beach anyone?

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Absolutely worth the flight.

 

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Hammocks and lazy days.

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Stunning sunflower fields of France.

Money aside, why wouldn’t you want your kids to see and experience all of this?

Do you have any tips for parents? Please share them in comments below. If you’ve got a funny story about travelling with kids, even better!

Handbags & Teabags

floral-teapot-pinkAnyone that knows me even remotely well will know I love a cup of tea. Have I mentioned this before? Sorry. But I do. Add cake in to the mix and I’m one happy lady. So, obviously, my favourite meal of the day is tea time – or afternoon tea, high tea, cream tea. Whatever you call it. I LOVE IT! Not that this is a meal as such. More of an event. In fact, I was have been asked if afternoon tea was something us Brits all had. Err.. no. But, wouldn’t it be fab if we could all go back to those Downton Abbey Days and luxuriate in afternoon tea at least once in a while. Straw-Handbags-Tokyo-2010-07-18-034

images (2)Which is why, last year, whilst still relatively new to Singapore I decided to invite a few ladies I’d met to join me for afternoon tea somewhere. A couple of them asked a friend or two. Before we knew it there was a big enough group of us to give  ourselves a name. So, may I introduce … drum roll please …

Handbags and Teabags or The Tea Ladies

Quite fitting for a group of expat women who like to scoff cake, drink tea  – and maybe a quaff a cheeky vino or two – whilst getting to know each other don’t you think?

imagesAs a group – with various people coming and going over the year – at no expense to yourselves, we have kindly spent our time trying out some of the best (and worst and quirkiest and unusual) places to have afternoon I_176447352_00_20121121tea here on our little red dot. All opinions expressed were personal. All taste buds were not hormone injected. All tea drunk was not organic. Any wine drunk may be well have been from the dark side. All prices quoted were what I could see without my glasses on.
Sometimes we may say we don’t like something – you might disagree. In which case, please tell us. Food critics we are not. If you’ve been somewhere good, do let me know. If you’ve been somewhere bad, tell me more.

imagesWe score each afternoon tea out of 10 – by teacups of course.

1 teacup = 1/10, it’s that simple.

So, put your feet up, stick the kettle on and have look at where we have been in the Time For Tea section of the blog.

2014-week-24-how-to-have-a-high-tea-673x480Calling all Afternoon Tea fans!

As we have lost a few people along the way thanks to this crazy transient expat life, we’re looking for some new tea drinkers. If you are a fan of afternoon tea, please get in touch, we’d love you to join us on our next Handbags and Teabags meet up which will be in December. Comment below and if you are interested in finding out more. 

Special Delivery

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Singapore is one of the most popular shopping destinations in the world. Fact. But ask any expat where they get a good majority of their shopping from and it’ll probably be on-line. Obviously we’re not talking food shopping so much but clothes, shoes, household stuff, sports gear, gadgets etc.

Maybe it’s something from home we’re after (think fave footy teams new kit) or just to save some cash (as import taxes can really make a difference to prices), online shopping is big here. If any of the big US or European department stores are offering free delivery to Singapore it’s shared all over expat social media quicker than you can say BOGOF.

But, when you do order online and are hit with the delivery costs from say, the UK or States, it can make an everyday purchase suddenly seem a luxury.

Then what? Can you live without your favourite brand? Will you just make do with a not so perfect fit? Should you just bite the bullet and pay the extra $ it’ll cost you here? Can you persuade the kids to support a local team instead?

Woman shops online

Never fear. No one has to defect to the dark side, or spend more cash than necessary thanks to a new way of ordering that I have recently had the good fortune to try out.

PacMe is a company based in the US who are here to help. They can take delivery of your packages, unpack them, get rid of all the excess packaging (and we know how much that is don’t we?) and then forward them to you in Singapore all in one parcel.

Genius! One of those ideas that make you slap your forehead and wonder how you didn’t know about it before.

It can cut your delivery costs by A LOT – especially if you are clever and get all the free delivery options that most online sites offer to US. Whilst many items can be delivered here in Singapore, the delivery charges are often not worth it. For example, for ages I’d been after a spiraliser (I know, I’m so rock and roll) but the cost of delivery was more than the actual gadget itself. But, to get it delivered to US is free.

iStock_000031935720XSmallThe service is also ideal for all those awkward things you want to buy that never seem to ship to Singapore at all, like pool toys. Or those items that are just more readily available with more choice on-line when you have them delivered to the States.

With PacMe it seems that the more you order – and therefore the heavier your final parcel – the better value it gets. This isn’t the place to go if you are just ordering a small gift. This is where you head when you’re planning to buy a number of things – at Christmas for example.

So, when the lovely people at PacMe asked me to try out this new way of ordering I of course had to have a go.

Firstly you sign up for an account – which, would usually cost around US$40 – BUT NOT FOR YOU LUCKY LOT. See promotional code at the end of this blog for promo code to get free account!

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You’re welcome!

 
So, you sign up for your FREE account and are then given your own ‘shipping address’ which is in Oregon, US (which is a tax-free state). You then order whatever you want/need/fancy – as much or as little as you like (although the more you order, the better the savings) – and enter your new Oregon address as the delivery address. Then it’s a matter of waiting for things to start arriving.

Once they do, PacMe will let you know what has arrived via email and you can check yourself through your account. They will even send pictures of your items so you can check what you’ve got. They unpack the items, remove excess labels, any unnecessary packaging and so on. You can choose if you want them to send the package on to you straight away, or hold on to it until you’ve got a few packages to send. Once you are ready to receive your parcel/s they will give you an estimated cost of delivery (rates are cheaper than usual delivery costs) and it wings its way to you.

It really is as simple as that.

When I tried it out I found the whole experience to be very straight forward. Any questions I had the customer service team answered very quickly via email. Even going back and re-taking a picture when I wasn’t sure the right thing had been sent. I happened to be away for a week after all my goods had arrived at my US delivery address, which was no problem, they simply kept hold of them for me. When I got back I let them know I was ready for them to send it.

When my package arrived to me I was really happy with the way things had been packaged – it always frustrates me when I get packages that are full of excess paper, plastic and materials that are not really protecting them.

My parcel was packed up just the way my mum would do it. squashing things that can’t break (t-shirts) in to protect things that are a bit more delicate (the spiraliser) and keeping things in place with heavier items (books).

When I looked at the cost of how much it would have cost me to have them all shipped here I saved myself a small fortune.

Santa Carrying Shopping Bags --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

All in all I’d say this was the ideal answer to something like shopping for Christmas gifts. You can go online, do all your ordering over a few days, have it sent to Oregon and then get it all delivered in one parcel to you here. As I’ve mentioned already – the PacMe guys will hold on to your packages for up to 90 days, so there’s no rush to place the whole order all in one go.

They even let you know how much space, weight has been saved. In my case I ordered 7 separate things from Amazon which in total weighed 10kg. When I received the order – in one box with no excess packaging at all – the final billable weight was just 4kg! Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that more than half the weight equals more than half the delivery costs. Well worth it.

T9494-P0001-CON-1The company is also very clear about the fact that this isn’t the thing to use if you’re just ordering a couple of things. For instance, a 2.3kg package going to Singapore costs about $55 for the 3-5 day service (which is outrageous for a single pair of shoes or a few shirts!), whereas a 23kg package costs a little less than $160. So again, better for a big spree you’re planning.

 
Give it a go, if you’re a smart shopper and order from websites that offer free delivery to the states you could save yourself a tidy sum. Especially as the lovely PacMe people have offered all Five Go Mad In readers a free account. Simply log on to www.pacme.com sign up and enter the promo code:

‘5gomadin’

Happy Shopping!

Hit the road

Driving in Singapore. Madness or a necessity?

Wide, well maintained roads and traffic that – although busy – is more often than not flowing, means driving in Singapore is a breeze right? Errr, no not necessarily. With major roads all given anagrams for names, very few roundabouts and a, shall we say, interesting take on road rules, driving can be a bit of a headache. Which is why I thought you might like a few handy hints to help you along the way.

IMG_4446Happy Motoring!

Around and about
In Singapore we drive on the left side, just as any sane, normal person would want to.  (Oh, I’m kidding, I know you Aussies and Americans hate the left but hey, what can I do?!) The roads are wide and generally well maintained. However, they do get busy. What’s strange though, is even when there’s a traffic jam, things very rarely come to a complete  stop. Cars do undertake and overtake (although I’m pretty sure this is NOT in the rule book) so make sure you check both sides before pulling over.

There are not many roundabouts in Singapore, instead, we make U-turns at designated points. It is clearly* marked where you can make a U-turn. If you’re not sure, just look out for the screeching brakes as someone decides they want to go back from whence they came. Sorry, I must also have a little word about roundabouts. I don’t think I’m being unfair when I say the ‘use’ of roundabouts in Singapore is a little sketchy. I guess as there are so few – I’d say less than 10 on the whole island – it’s fair enough that a lot of people don’t know what the hell to do when they approach one. So, be warned. When you find yourself at a roundabout be prepared for anything. Don’t make any silly assumptions like the person on the inside is going round to the next exit, or that the person joining the roundabout will give way to those already on it. No, don’t be daft.1024px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Information_Sign_-_U-Turn_Lane.svg

* ‘clearly’ if you’re looking for the blue U sign that is.

It is well worth reading the highway code before you start driving as there are a number of rules and regulations that differ to say, Britain. Especially regarding white lines, yellow lines, red lines. There are a lot of lines.

IMG_4525In fact, if you’re driving in Singapore and are going to be here for more than 12 months, you do – according to most people* – need a Singapore driving licence. You can convert your existing driving licence and this should be done within a year of being here. This involves taking the basic theory test. For more information see www.ecitizen.gov.sg.

*This proves to be a contentious issue amongst expats. But, my take on it is, if you’re driving in another country other than the one you took your test in, get yourself sorted.

To buy or to let?
The Government, in a bid to lower the number of cars on the road, have put in place a number of measures to manage car ownership. These include high taxes, a Certificate of Entitlement and high registration fees. All of which can make owning a car pretty expensive. More information can be found at www.ita.gov.sg.

The majority of expats in Singapore lease a car and there are a plethora of companies that can offer you everything from a sports car to a mini bus. Look out for a reputable leasing company and be careful of paying too much up front. Keep records of what you pay and make sure you know if insurance is included. Also check if you can travel across to Malaysia in the car if that’s something that is on your agenda (it only takes a few hours to get there and is a popular jaunt for expats).

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A typical road gantry

Box of tricks
Every car is fitted with a little device in the front window. This is called an IU device (an In Vehicle unit) and it will be your best friend. It will get you in and out of car parks and around the roads of Singapore. Across some of the roads are gantries which will charge you automatically as you drive under them. The charge is deducted from your IU device automatically. However, it does need a ‘cash card’ in it and this needs ‘topping up’ regularly.

Top up machines are easy to find

To do this is easy — once you know how and where. You can do it at most ATM machines — just pop your bank card in and follow the instructions. A lot of shopping centres have ‘Top Up machines’ usually situated by the walkway to car parks or outside lifts. They can be pretty hard to spot at first, but once you’ve noticed them you’ll see they are all over the place. For your info, they look like this:

You can also top up at 7/11 stores and some petrol stations. Always make sure you’ve got at least $20 on your card as it can be easy to go through it in a day, especially if you’re parking in the CBD (Central Business District). However, once you know where you’re going you’ll find the money on it lasts longer.

If you go in to a car park without a barrier, or want to park in a road (check you can first), it’s likely you’ll need ‘coupons‘ to park. These coupons can be bought at 7/11 stores and a number of garages and cost 50c or $1 each and are bought in books of ten or so. Check the colour of the parking bays and read the back of the coupon book to see how many coupons you should display for the time you’ll be there. Pop out the little round tags for time and date and you’re good to go. It is always worth keeping a book of them in the glove compartment.

Filling up
When the car needs petrol you will find a number of petrol stations to choose from. Some offer a discount to certain bank users, most offer you a loyalty card. The loyalty cards are worth getting as they give them away free (you have to register online usually) and you are then given at least 10% off your petrol. For nothing! Some people have a preference as to what ‘brand’ of petrol station they use, but there’s no big difference that I can see.

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Uncle will fill your car up for you. Say thank you!

When you drive in to a petrol station you will see people by the pumps ready to help. Their job is to fill your tank for you. Tell them what type of petrol you want and how much and that’s it, all you have to do is pay. Tip them if you feel you want to. Maybe buy a bottle of cold water as well if it’s a really hot day to give them on your way out as a thank you? Or just a couple of dollars is appreciated. But it is NOT compulsory or expected.

Get lost!
Get a good SatNav. In my experience and the experience of many others I’ve met, the roads can be a little confusing for the first six months (ahem, six years) or so and you will get lost – a lot! The roads do not run on a grid system like New York and err, Milton Keynes (yes, ok, it’s not quite New York, but you know what I mean). There are a lot of one way streets and motorways that cross through major roads. So, to save your sanity, invest in an up to date SatNav. Oh, but also, don’t assume the SatNav is right or will take you where you want it to. Like I say, the roads here confuse everyone – even the clever little guy who sits inside your SatNav.

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Watch out for motorbikes

Motorbikes. They are popular mode of transport in Singapore – with the cost of cars the way they are, it’s not surprise. Just be very aware of them when driving on the roads as they do pass on both sides. Often in a kind of double fly-by I find. Check your blind spot – then check again – before moving into a new lane.

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…And Evel Knievel wannabee’s

And finally, if you’re having a bad morning and you need a pick me up just turn on the traffic news. Seriously, it’s like a mix between a game show question, tongue twister and someone speaking in tongues.

“Traffic is slow on the AYE, PIE, KPE and CTE with a vehicle breakdown on the outside of the TPE which is also affecting traffic on the PIE/ECP to Changi.”

Seriously – wth?

 

More Things You Might Like To Know…

The response to my first “Things you might like to know” was so overwhelming I promised you part two.

Well, here it is. Please let me know what you think.

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The most beautiful city at night

So just over 13 months since we moved to Singapore and I think it’s safe to say we’ve all settled in.  Dog included. No longer is the supermarket run quite so daunting. I don’t always have to switch the satnav on whenever I leave the house.

There are so many little things that have helped me that it’s difficult to know where to start. So, in no particular order here’s a run down of more things you might like to know if you’re living in Singapore…

Sweating
This is the one we all want to talk about – but don’t – right?

Let’s get it out there once and for all.
Living in Singapore you will sweat LIKE A PIG.
Sorry, there’s no other way to say it.

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Is anyone else hot?

With an average temperature of 81 degrees (I’m still old school with the weather guy) it’s pretty hot. Add on the fact that we also have 80% humidity, you end up with a situation that is frankly similar to a sauna. So at some point you’ve got to get over the sweat issue.
Let’s clear up some questions/concerns straight away:

  • You will sweat in places you didn’t think you could. Down your back, legs, neck, behind your ears, backs of knees,  head, eyes… you get the picture.
  • Yes, sometimes you will leave that ‘little triangle’ on a chair as you get up. Don’t worry, it will evaporate faster than you can say, “I haven’t wet myself, honest.” Just walk away with your head held high, no one will notice – and if they do, they’re only looking because they want to be sure they’re not the only ones this happens to.
  • It rarely smells. Don’t think you’ll be surrounded by people who stink – or that you need to spray deodorant every two minutes. Sweat doesn’t smell straight away, it’s all about the reaction with the bacteria on your skin. If you’ve had a shower, you’ll be fine for a while. So don’t panic.

There’s not much you can do about it bar have surgery to remove your sweat glands – and even then you’ll probably still drip from the humidity. But there are some things you can do to help.

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    A girls best friend

    Take a fan out with you. My dear friend Toni always carried an elegant fan in her bag and gave me this advice early on. She suggested buying a few – a smaller one for evening bags, large one for when you’re off out for the day etc. They cost a few dollars from the stalls at China Town market and will become your best friend. Don’t bother with the little battery operated ones as you do look a bit daft wafting those around. Much more elegant to daintily fan yourself with a pretty fan. (I’m still working on the dainty and elegant!)

  • Avoid wearing anything not made of a natural fabric. I can’t stress this enough. Believe me, I’ve been there and done that. Thinking that viscose top that is so lovely and floaty at home will be fine when you’re out. It won’t, it will stick to you and make you feel much sweatier. Anything with a nylon lining should be packed away for trips home. It will be like going out in a sweater. Do not do it.
    Cotton, linen, silk – all the usual favourites. They won’t stop you sweating, but they’ll help you keep it under control.
  • Avoid colours that will show the sweat more – light blues, grey, certain light browns, the kind of colours that can turn a shade darker in water. They will give away any signs of perspiration long before you notice. Men have it easier here as they can wear a cotton t-shirt under their work shirt, ideal for soaking up wet patches.
  • Plan to stay out of the sun for as much as possible. Most, if not all, shops, cafes, hospitals, etc. will be air-conditioned so it’s quite easy to keep cool. If you’re going about your day to day business you’ll usually be able to take advantage of some air con most of the time. If you’re out enjoying some of the fabulous walks and sights that Singapore has to offer, then you’ve just got to suck it up. Take plenty of water with you and become friends with your sweat. Oh, and pop a flannel or two in your bag – great for mopping up.
  • But really – literally, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s just part of living here.
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Release your inner Monica

Hair
Really, I don’t know where to start. I guess I’m just going to start with a suggestion. Go find the episode of Friends when Monica goes to Barbados.

Watch it.
Laugh.
Then resign yourself to being Monica.

Seriously, it’s not quite that bad (for some people). But it can be a battle. Much like the sweat, it’s part of living in the tropics. You may well straighten it, blast it with anti humidity spray and only run from the house to a cab. But, by the time you reach your destination it will start the frizzing game. By the end of the day or evening you will look like you just got out of a hot tub. But hey, so will most other people so it’s ok.

Those that don’t look like that? Well, they fall in to a few categories:

  • Keratin treatment – a “wonder” treatment that gets mixed reviews. It’s an anti-frizz straightening treatment that costs quite a lot of money but lasts a good few months. Get a recommendation of where to go from someone before you decide. In my experience, it is pretty amazing and works like magic – I’ve tried it a couple of times and was pretty impressed.
  • Olaplex treatment – this is supposed to deal with the root of the problem and repair damaged hair. I have also tried this as it’s meant to be great for coloured hair (gasp, that’s not your natural colour I hear you cry!) To be honest, I never saw the fab results it promises but I do know people who’s hair looks amazing from it.
  • They have naturally straight, glossy, perfect hair.  So a little bit of frizz just gives it a lovely natural wave. We don’t talk to those people. 😉
  • They have a wig on.

There are other treatments around too. If you see someone who you think has fabulous hair – ask them. Who wouldn’t want to be told they looked great?

Should I talk about the hair falling out now? You know right?

Going Out
If you’re thinking of heading to a concert or a show whilst you’re here. Go for it! Singapore has some great venues and there’s almost always enough tickets to go round. If there isn’t, keep your eye on the expat sites as there are often people who, for whatever reasons can no longer go, so will need to sell theirs. But, just to say, the experience is slightly different here.

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Yes, that’s right, we’re part of the show…

Singaporeans tend to be more reserved than you may be used to. So, whilst you may don your platform heels, dig out the white jump suit and slap on the 70’s wig to go along to the Abba tribute night (you know who you are hidden behind the disguises), the rest of the audience might not. That’s not to say you won’t have fun – in fact, you might well become part of other people’s evening entertainment. No one will mind, you just have to front it out and enjoy yourself.

Concerts can be tricky, depending on who you’re seeing. The sports stadium is huge but from my experience when a concert is sold out, this doesn’t actually mean there will be a full stadium. Not sure why? Maybe it’s an overcrowding concern (or fear of it?), but generally the big venues aren’t quite as crowded as you’d expect. If the artist you’re going to see is any good, they’ll have you on your feet and you’ll have  blast, if they’re a bit reserved, expect to be sitting down nodding along. Oh, and they will usually start and finish on time. Check if there’s a s support act, if not, don’t stroll in an hour after opening and expect to see much.

Packages
Oh my God, shops here LOVE a ‘package’

A ‘package’ is basically a way to pay for a service – such as nails, waxing, etc – up front. You pay for an agreed number of treatments up front and get a discount or something extra in return. They are basically buying your loyalty.

It used to really get on my nerves that every time I had my nails done (cos that’s all I do all day dahling, that and have free flow lunches right?!) I would have to listen to a huge sales spiel about a free manicure if I buy blah, blah. They’re good too. Next time listen out for the pitch. They start out asking if you’re here on holiday. When you proudly reply, “no, I live here” you will see them literally beam – Ah, an expat!  You see, they know you’re probably not too sure of things and know you’ll be around for a while. Or long enough to come back one more time at least.

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Beauty packages – a good deal?

It’s entirely up to you if you decide to opt for a package or not. Some of them are worth while, offering really good discounts and, of course, you become a regular customer – and so feel more comfortable. But, some people have found the service changes once you’ve bought a package and others are left out of pocket when the company ceases to exist. If it’s a service you know you’ll use a lot you could save yourself a small fortune though so it’s worth considering. Some things to ask before you buy are:

  • Can you transfer the package to someone else – meaning if you have to leave before you’ve used up all your package you can give, or sell it, to someone else to use.
  • Can you share the package with other people. For example, if your mum comes to visit, can you both go to get your nails done within the package.
  • How long has the shop/company been around for and do they offer any assurances if they have to shut down?
  • What exactly is included – be careful of those that are vague. Your six manicures may only include a certain type of polish or, as I found, may only be the ‘deluxe’ version which takes so long to do you never actually have time for it.

Fogging
You may have heard the rumble first, or caught site of a very strange guy wearing what looks like chemical warfare clothing. Or, like me, you may have been driving down the road and seen a thick cloud of smoke rising up from the grounds of a condo you are passing. Don’t, like me, panic and assume there’s a huge fire and you ought to call the fire brigade.

It’s just fogging.

Fogging is used by most landlords to control the number of pests (mainly mosquitos) in and around your home. It happens regularly here and it’s something you soon become accustomed to. If you’re in a condo you should be given fair warning of when it’ll happen as you do have to shut all doors and windows. Some people suggest taping up air vents and rubbish chute openings too as those critters are on a death sentence and will try to escape wherever they can.

I’m never quite sure how assured I am by the “not dangerous ma’am” comments when I see a guy all kitted up with face mask and overalls. But the pest control companies all give the same assurances that the fogging is safe (and by ‘safe’ that means not toxic to us). And let’s face it, we live in a country that has a prevalence of dengue fever (a highly infectious disease spread by a certain breed of mosquito) as well as other mosquito borne diseases. So better safe than sorry eh? Just stay indoors whilst the fogging is going on and you’ll be ok.

Acronyms
Why oh why???

What is it with Singapore and shortening every bloody word, phrase, name there is? Jeez it’s confusing. But, don’t worry. I found this handy wicki guide that helps. Just be prepared to keep re-referring.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Singapore_abbreviations

For now. Ladies and gentleman I give you the motorways. Apparently, once you know the full names you will know where you’re going – or where to head for.
Err… the jury is out on that one!

• AYEAyer Rajah Expressway
• BKEBukit Timah Expressway
• CTECentral Expressway
• ECPEast Coast Parkway
• KJEKranji Expressway
• KPEKallang-Paya Lebar Expressway
• MCEMarina Coastal Expressway
• NSENorth-South Expressway
• PIEPan Island Expressway
• SLESeletar Expressway
• TPETampines Expressway

Cabs
One of the many things you will learn to love about Singapore are the cabs. I talked about them in the first part, but let me expand. They are cheap – back home in the UK the equivalent journey would cost three times as much. They are plentiful; even if it doesn’t always seem that way. There are generally lovely Uncles (and the occasional Auntie) driving them, some of whom will share their stories and wisdom with you, and some may even give you a pack of tissues too (which, by now you obviously know is the currency of hawker centres).

So, to clear up the taxi business. It’s all about the signs on top.

  • If it’s free and ready for a job, it’ll be lit up green and say ‘taxi’.
  • If it’s been booked it’ll be red and either say ‘hired’ ‘busy’ or ‘on call’.
  • If the signs says ‘shift change’ this means the driver is finishing for the day.

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Now, many expats rant and rave about a cab that wouldn’t take them (me included) because it was not ‘on their way.’ But once I learnt why I stopped the moaning.

These guys are signing off and are on the way home. Why should they turn around and take you where you want to go if it means adding another 20 minutes to their already long day?  Sometimes the light on top will tell you where they are heading which is always handy (if you know where it is you’re going of course) If it’s not going your way – don’t flag it down. Move on and find a cab that has a green light.

Also, don’t be offended if you are in a cab line and someone at the back steps forward and jumps in the next cab that pulls up. Before you lynch them, check the sign – if it’s red then they’ve pre-booked it. It’s their cab. Done deal.

Which leads me to my last point on cabs. GET AN APP! There are many cab apps to choose from and they all work well. I’ll list some at the end of the article, but input your details and you can be the one jumping straight to the front of the line. Some of them you can link to your bank card so that you don’t need to have cash on you. Handy when booking for errant kids and hubbies!

Quirky sights
As you move around the island you’ll become familiar with some of the quirky sights that make Singapore so unique. Here are some of my favourites to look out for.

  • The poles that stick out of HDB windows. Washing lines! Nope, no idea how the washing stays on either but I would love to find out. I’d also love to know how many pairs of knickers are lost per year, how many odd socks are swept up every morning any how many cursing helpers have to run down 30 floors to retrieve washing that has fallen.
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    Be respectful and interested

    Temples, temples, temples. You literally can find a temple round every corner in Singapore. If, like me, you’re a keen photographer it’s a dream and a curse. You can waste many an hour photographing some of the most beautiful buildings. From my experience so far most temples are welcoming to guests who are respectful. If you are not sure if you should take your shoes off, go in with shorts on  or take photographs – ask! Some places have a small poster up outside to give guidelines. Or, like me, you could join one of the tours that show you around places like Little India. The lovely Pooja (Tekka Tours), who ran the tour was very helpful in explaining how to behave and it was quite eye-opening.

  • Phones – everywhere. People talking, watching, listening, cradling them. It’s the nations obsession. And don’t even get me started on selfies. Love or hate them you can not avoid them lah!
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    Always something new to see

    Graffiti – this isn’t so much something you can see. But something you can’t. Unlike most cities, the side streets and old buildings are not littered with scrawlings referring to someone’s football team preference. It’s only when you see some – and this will always be organised “allowed” graffiti – that you realise the lack of it. There are some spectacular examples around so keep a look out.

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    Friendly locals

    The people! If you open yourself up you’ll be surprised what you learn.
    This couple was delightful when we stopped at their shop to buy drinks after a hot day photographing around Little India. They happily told us about their local food business and posed for snaps.  Just last week I was eating at a hawker centre and a guy busy eating his rice dish (with his fingers – totally normal here) got chatting to me and my family.  He told us what he was eating, and offered to share it. Not wanting to be rude – and despite all my British reservations – I tucked in. It was delicious! I now know that you can get huge pots of sauce to add to your dish at that particular hawker stall. Yum!

Public holidays
There are a lot of public holidays in Singapore. Yay! Nothing to complain about there at all. If you’re planning on going away, plan well in advance as they get booked up. For a list of public holidays coming up look at the MOM website.

http://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/public-holidays

There are also lots of cultural festivals that happen and you may not even realise it. For example, right now, (August) is the Chinese Ghost Month. You may have noticed the smell of burning quite a lot. This is the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper to please the unknown ghost. Local Chinese will also pay respect to their own deceased ancestors by honouring them with food and burning incense.

Always be respectful of local festivals. Ask questions if you want to learn more and keep an eye on information at community centres for more details.

Making Friends
Once you’ve got over the shock of moving here you’ll start to feel like you might want to get out and about. Really, there are so many ways to meet people here you should find something to suit you. From courses to learn Mahjong and quilting, to groups that meet to walk the green corridor or run up Fort Canning steps a dozen or so times. Not to mention the hundreds of coffee morning, brunch and lunch meet ups. Oh, and of course the ladies nights (see here for more on that). Then there are groups for specific people such as those who have children with special needs, or business women, stay at home mums, empty nesters. The list goes on and on.

facebook-login-sign-inI’ve listed a selection of Facebook groups and the main website at the end of this. Choose which ones you think suit you and press that join button. You’ll be amazed at what you end up doing. If you’re not sure, just head to Facebook or a search engine and have a look. This is by no means an exhaustive group. Please feel free to add your favourites to the comments box at the end of this.

Finally,
Enjoy it! I have met one too many people here who have said they’d wish they had joined in more, gone to see more of what Singapore has to offer, visited some of the many beautiful islands and countries that are so close. Do it! You never know how long you’ll be here and the fun will be over.

Cab Apps
Grab Taxi: http://grabtaxi.com/singapore/
Uber: https://www.uber.com/cities/singapore

Little India Tours 

Expat Facebook Groups
For all expat women
More for expat women
And more still
If you have teenage children
To meet for coffee
If you’re new here
Casual meet ups
For those who like travel
To buy or sell stuff 
Business women
More business women
If you are an empty nester
Interested in photography

Websites
For meet up groups