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.

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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. 

Fitness in Singapore

It’s no surprise that in a country where even the oldest in society are encouraged to get up and active, here in Singapore the health and fitness industry is huge.

ohzumba-2121214e_2xLeading a healthier lifestyle is pretty much something most people want. But actually doing something about it is what 90% of us struggle with right? We know we should – and could – be eating a clean diet, detoxing, juicing, drinking 3 litres of water and cutting out the junk. We have heard all about choosing a paleo diet, going gluten-free or dairy free, eating vegetarian or vegan. You may also have heard about drinking activated charcoal, matcha tea, bone broth and the so last year – coconut water.

You can’t turn a corner in Singers without bumping in to a nutritionist who can help you on your path to food righteousness. Whether it’s learning how to combine foods better, or working out food labels, or even helping you navigate the supermarkets. There is someone who can help you achieve your healthier eating plan (NO ONE calls them diets anymore).

Alongside the nutritionists and dieticians you will also find a truck load of personal trainers and group classes – and I mean a truck load. Whether you want to sweat it out in the blistering heat running up hills at Fort Canning or chill to the sound of waves crashing at Sentosa beach. Singapore has it.

o-FUNNY-FITNESS-SHIRTS-facebookHITT (high intensity interval training) and body weight training are two of the biggest trends with classes popping up all over the place. Then you’ve got good old Zumba still paving the way for dance based fitness. Along with belly dancing, salsa, Kpop, Bokwa to name but a few.

Or what about boot camps?  Boot camps seem to be to new mums what parent and toddler groups used to be. The difference being rather than drinking tea and eating biscuits whilst watching your little one play, you now get down and sweaty to get the perfect yummy mummy figure whilst your child drinks juice, eats biscuits and is thoroughly entertained by said yummy mummies sweating their butts off. (By the way, the perfect YM figure does NOT mean being stick thin; rather it’s all about getting strong)

Other classes to look out for include Piloxing, Power Pump, Step, Boxercise, Core, Body Jam, Body Combat, Body Attack, Cycling (in and out of water!), Stability Ball – I could go on. There is literally a class to pound every part of your body and then some. Then there are the slightly less obvious ones like pole dancing, aerial hoop, Sh’bam, Hot Slim, MovNat and even Indoor Surfing. Yes, these are all real classes.

And when you’ve hit your high energy peak or your cardio limit you can turn to the core of it all – literally – and hit the mat with yoga or pilates. Some say this is THE best type of exercise you can do, or at least something you should do as well as everything else.

imagesYoga is an ancient practice which most of us know about. There are various misconceptions about yoga, not least that it makes you pass wind. Yeah, we’ve all thought it, haven’t we? Lying there in that oh so comfy happy baby pose hoping we don’t let rip. You’ll be pleased to know, if you’ve never tried it, it’s not a given so don’t let it put you off. Just be prepared to hold that position and a straight face.

Oh wait. Yoga you say? It’s not that simple is it? There’s Hot Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Sivananada Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Dynamic Yoga, Flexi Yoga, Power Yoga, Yoga Flow… you get my point? If you think yoga isn’t for you, perhaps you just need to try a different type? Just think how bendy you could be!

Pilates is the newer kid on the block but gaining in popularity as it again works on your core, building a stronger, more flexible you. I’ve only tried it once and it’s tough. But can see the benefits if you keep it up. I’ll add it to my list – along with Aerial hoop!
If you want to start moving a bit more, from my experience here in Singapore, the best thing to do is GO. It sounds easy enough right? Sometimes just the actual going is hard. But it’s the only way.

Find out where there’s a class you like the sound of – and go.

girl-gpoy-gym-illustration-lol-Favim.com-112215Yes, you might well be the only one who can’t do one full sit up, let alone 20. You may well feel a bit of an idiot grinding your (very creaky) hips like some teenager at a club. You might even be asked if you’ve ever exercised before (after spending the past six months diligently trying your best at Zumba and in the gym). But you will also – at some point – have fun throwing your body around a room to the sound of Ricky, will probably laugh at the fact that rather than a push up you managed a grunt up and feel slightly giggly trying to body roll. You will also feel great afterwards from the rush of exercising.

Don’t be put off that you don’t know anyone. I’ve found going it alone strangely liberating. Rocking up to a class where no-one knows how fit (or unfit) you are and just getting on with it means you have no one to please, or let down, but yourself. No giggles of embarrassment when you properly try the body ripple.

The fact that here in Singapore you’ve got a whole bunch of women (and men if you choose) from all around the world makes for a different dynamic I find. Being British means I am, of course, cursed with the ‘please don’t get too excited or enjoy yourself too much’ gene. Those of you from the US have no such inhibitions (ok, I’m generalising, but you know what I mean!) You guys throw yourself in to every class with whoops and shouts of encouragement that, once you get your head around the randomness of it, is actually quite encouraging and makes it all the more fun. When an American friend first said “great job Jo, you’re doing amazing” I thought she was being sarcastic. But she wasn’t, she was genuinely happy for me and expressed it. Wow! So not British.what-i-think-i-look-like1

So, whatever country you’re from you’ll find a class, trainer, group you fit with. It may even be the one you think you’ll hate. I now love the class that I very nearly left mortified at the ‘have you ever exercised?’ comment. But the trainer wasn’t being mean, she just needed to know so she could watch out for me. After all, I was slightly less athletic than the rest of the group (still am!). She actually sent me an email the next day to congratulate me on finishing ‘what was a really tough class’. I literally glowed all day from that one little email. So, don’t give up.

A friend in the UK put it brilliantly recently when I asked her what new stuff was happening back home. “I’m doing that class when just at the point where you think you might puke, it’s over” Can’t wait to try it when I’m back. I’ll even surprise them all with a few whoops and cheers as we work out.women-fitness-vector4

So, tell me, what is your favourite way to keep fit? We could make a great list to share around.

I’ll start – Ben’s Zumba class and Pippa’s fat burning class at Singapore Polo Club, the amazing Melanie Richards who gave myself and my friend 3 months of fabulous yoga before heading back to Oz. I’m still looking for a great replacement if anyone knows of someone?  Then there’s Aaron and his gang at ifcPT. For great, honest nutritional advice try Karin at Nutritious n Delicious. Finally, I love the vibe at Body Temple and am currently ‘enjoying’ the boxing class there.

Oh, one more thing. There’s a great Facebook page dedicated to fitness called Singapore Slim. Don’t be put off by its name – it’s full of motivation for women to get fit and strong (rather than slim) and has some great tips and suggestions.

I’d also like to hear your best tracks to work out too. This one just reminds of a the fabulous Delphine and her squats. Ouch!

Over to you…

 

 

Aside

Err… Yes

The life of an expat wife in Singapore is getting more fun there’s no doubt. I have friends that I feel comfortable with, more going on day-to-day, getting lost a bit less, I am actually starting to feel like I live here. With my new years resolution being to say yes to more things I’ve kicked it off with my first proper ‘ladies night.’

In the UK, this ladies night malarkey doesn’t exist. Well, not in the way it does here. There are those ladies nights where groups of women get together and scream embarrassing stuff at male strippers whilst drinking copious amounts of alcohol and dancing around handbags*. But, that’s never appealed to me, I’m just not in to that kind of thing – the stripper bit, not the alcohol (as if!) So I was a little wary of the ladies nights here, wondering if they are similar in their playful debauchery.

*no offence to those that enjoy this kind of shindig!

And as a service to you all I felt obliged to find out.

True to my ‘say yes’ to more things mantra, I forced my butt out of the house midweek. I won’t lie, it was a struggle. Drinking, on a school night and everything. But apparently it’s what us expat wives do here.

Ladies_Night_V2

Those in the know are fully conversed in which bars offer the most or best ‘free-flow’ (I’ll come back to that), pizzas and cocktails on ladies night. I don’t, so I just went along to one someone else had organised hoping it would be alright.

I’d met one of the ladies who was going the day before and she was bringing a pal. Lucky she did as numbers started to drop first thing Wednesday morning. By mid afternoon many of those that were coming were bailing. it looked like there would be just the three of us. All good though, I was still going. YES I was.

When I arrived at the bar – The Exchange at Asia Square for those who want to know – it was heaving and I hesitated before going in. After a quick shifty around I spotted another ‘lost’ looking woman and approached her. Something I probably wouldn’t have done before becoming an expat. Turns out she was the friend of the lady I was meeting up with. Lovely, we’d found each other and we chatted whilst waiting for our mutual pal to arrive. We must have looked a bit lost as another woman approached us and asked if we were ok. We admitted we didn’t have a clue so she gave us a quick run down of how it was done.

This is what is great about Singapore, people are willing to say ‘hey, you ok there, do you want some help?’ – especially amongst the expats. So, this very helpful lady explained how this particular ladies night worked (they are all different apparently).

X marked the spot

Branded!

We simply had to go to find the lady with The Stamp. She was to be found behind what looked like a sink full of beer dishing out stamps to women and buckets of beer to men. X marked the spot quite literally. She branded us (our other pal had arrived by then) and gave us a (plastic!) cocktail glass each and nodded towards what looked like juice dispensers.

juice_dispenser_3

Dangerously innocent looking

Red, milky white and bright orange and green were our options. Cosmo, lychee martini and no idea as wasn’t going to drink anything that glows like that.

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Lychee martini’s – yum!

We opted for lychee martinis and boy were they good. This is where ‘free-flow’ enters your vocabulary. Turns out, just because I have a pair of breasts, on a Wednesday I can drink as many of these rather lovely concoctions between 6-9 and NOT PAY A PENNY! Weird right? It’s free-flowing you see? There are free-flow brunches, free-flow ladies night, free-flow parties galore here.

You just have to know where and when.

So, there we were happily quaffing our free cocktails and rather enjoying ourselves. Another lady joined us which made us a merry gang of four. Perfect.

But, come 9 o clock they shut you down. Take away your glass (plastic thing) and you have to slide back in to the reality of paying through the nose for a drink. By then, of course, you’re quite happy to do so. After all you’ve had a few freebies, so why not? The bar definitely emptied out though after the 9 o clock curfew. There are some very astute drinkers in Singapore you know.

We stayed put though and had a fab night of girly chatter and got chatting to some other expats – again something that just seems to happen here. There may even have been a spot of volleyball going on somewhere, but that could have been a rumour.

To top the night off, in a nod to my Essex routes – and the insistence of the Aussies I was with – we did what would be the equivalent of going for a bag of chips and a kebab back home. We hit the hawker centre and devoured some pratas. They were gooooood! Sitting outside on plastic stools in what was essentially a car park, we had the best tasting chicken and banana prata’s ever. Think we may have been ripped off with the price, but still, a bargain late-night meal!

Regretted them the next day though…

So, yes I went out midweek – on a school night and everything – when I didn’t really feel up for it. Yes I went not really knowing anyone. Yes I went along to a bar I’d never been to on my own. Yes I met some great people. Yes I had a great time.Yes I’d go on a ladies night again. And yes, I felt like the proverbial you-know-what the next day. But it was worth it.

See, this saying yes thing is working for me.

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Playlist…

 

Home is where the heart is…

Or was, or thinks it wants to be…IMG_0876

Having landed here in Singapore from the UK just nine weeks before I guess it should have come as no surprise that I felt homesick.  Ever since we’d arrived I had a feeling of things being not quite right. Off kilter. Like something didn’t quite fit.  This particular day it hit me hard, and it hit me in the least likely of situations. I was on my way to meet a lady I’d met at a school coffee morning the week before. She’d kindly invited me to join her and a few other women for a walk with our dogs and we were then going to have brunch together. All very sociable; more than I could have hoped for so early on really.

So imagine my surprise when, on the way there in the car a huge wave of longing to be home hit me. I found myself crying. Right there at the traffic lights. Good job I was wearing my sunglasses.

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And this is how it seems to be for me. I can be doing anything at all – the most mundane of jobs – and it’ll hit me right in the gut. It’s a physical thing too. Not a pain as such, but a twisting of the insides. A huge lurch in my stomach and chest.

Having asked around, it seems many of us – new and old expats alike – feel the same. Some of the things I’ve heard include a feeling of being overwhelmed, a lack of belonging, that the first few months are so raw.

So I got to wondering why this was? When we have come willingly (most of us anyway) to this beautiful country that is full of wonderful things to do and people to meet. Not to mention the fabulous travel opportunities being in Singapore offers up.

Some of these feelings I’m sure are a result of coming down from the high of the move. The initial excitement of the prospect of moving to a new country, telling your friends and family, choosing where to live etc. Before you leave your previous home, you spend time and energy getting organised for it. Packing, re-packing, sorting, clearing and so on. You are emotionally drained from all the farewells which can go on for weeks . Then, when you land, you have to hit the ground running trying to set up a new home (or find yourself a new home!), get the kids settled – at home and in school or nursery. There’s no time for what many have called the grieving process.

Once you’ve arrived there’s also the issue of finding your way round. I totally underestimated how stressful this would be. Navigating the roads is no mean feat. Navigating a shopping mall in this particular country I find almost impossible. There’s a certain incident that will be forever known as ‘Organic basket’ day that will go down in history as one of my all-time lows. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

Getting to know people, making friends and building relationships is vital – but can be draining. That’s not to say any of the lovely people I’ve met are making things hard for me. But, when you are getting to know someone 352-mastermind-chairthere is a lot to think about. All that information that needs to be shared, remembered and digested. Just a quick cup of tea can turn in to what feels like mastermind. In the next round you’re supposed to remember how many children they have, how long they’ve been an expat and where else they’ve lived. Otherwise you feel your time may be up.

You long for the warm, snuggly comfort blanket that is home and all that you know there. For family who you know you can call on when you just need a break from the kids. No questions asked or gaps to fill in. The friends who know when to call for a chat, to pop by for a cuppa – bring your favourite cake and give you a hug.

Being out of routine doesn’t help either. With no real place to fit or even anywhere to be most days it’s hard to fill your time meaningfully. Yes, for me, I could spend all day writing on my computer – and I often do – but that’s not going to help. The advice from many who’ve trodden this path before is, it’s best to get out there. To engage, see what’s going on, join a group, start a hobby. But wandering around without a real reason, or in my case, getting lost constantly isn’t much fun. But, I know it has to be done in order to build up a routine. Even if it’s just taking the dog to the local park every Thursday morning – that lady I spoke to once might become a good friend. It’s all about making the most of the opportunities really isn’t it?

The sad thing I’ve found though is how many of us feel this way. There are a lot of lonely women (and, I’m sure men) in Singapore. Women who have often put their lives on hold for their partners job and uprooted their families to pursue what they hope is a better life, a new adventure, a chance to start again. Which is all good in theory. But the reality of it is tough. Even those who have been here – or been away from ‘home’ – for over 20 years say it’s still hard. Especially as, by their very nature, expats are transient. People come and go all the time so you may find your new best friend has to leave and you are back to square one.

When does where you’re living become home I wonder? One Dutch lady said it was when she referred to a trip back as ‘going to Holland’  rather than ‘home’. When does the ‘not quite the right fit’ suddenly become more comfortable? One lovely analogy someone shared with me summed it up really:

‘It’s like Tree_of_Life_IIbeing a tree that has been many years happily in its pot. But, it really needed to be replanted in order for it to grow. Its branches and roots needed to be trimmed to help regenerate new growth. The branches (everything you knew how to do on automatic pilot) needed cutting back to grow new ones. Your roots (your support network of family and friends) have been given a shake up but they’re still there, along with some new ones that will help ground you. Although we call it homesickness, it is in fact, transplant wilt. With a little bit of time, patience and care you’ll soon be back to your blossoming self.’

That was another thing that came out when talking to others about this. It’s important to be kind to yourself. Give yourself space to feel sad. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing this well. Then also give yourself a kick up the you-know-what and get out there and enjoy the experience as much as you can. Accept you will miss home, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Get help from an expert if you need to. Phone that lady you swapped numbers with last week and arrange a night out. Go along to that coffee morning, you never know  your new BFFN (best friend for now) could be there waiting for you. Help yourself develop a sense of belonging by making an effort to belong.

Cherish the family and friends you have at ‘home’ – wherever that may be, near or far. It seems the common feeling is that the first year is the hardest, after that it becomes easier. So, only 41 weeks to go then…

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