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

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Aside

The kids are alright

Moving abroad is a big decision. Becoming an expat is generally a path you choose to take. As adults we give it as much thought as time allows – be it one year, five years or one month. At some point we have all had to ask ourselves the question – can I do this? Should I do this? Will I do this?

For those of us with children this question doesn’t end with an I. As the god-who-is-Billy-Bragg says:

You take the M for me and Y for you out of family and it all falls through.

So, most parents who are considering this move struggle with the bigger question. Will they (our offspring) hate us for doing this? Or, Is this the right thing to do as a family?

(I realise some also have to decide IF their children should come at all, or stay at home in boarding school, but that’s another bridge right?)

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Of course, we will never be sure if we are doing, or did, the right thing. Who knows how many hours of therapy have been spent discussing what it’s like being ripped from the friends you’ve grown up with and dumped in to a new school in a new country. How can you make up for removing your children from the bosom (be it GG or A cup) of your extended family? Can we really say the positives will outweigh the negatives in the long run?

Every parent – and grandparent, aunt, sister, uncle, god parent and ‘like an aunty to them’ – will have a different opinion. Most of us will have gone through all the what if’s in our heads so many times we don’t know what we think anymore.

Of course there are negatives for our kids – losing friendships that have taken years to build, missing family and friends, combatting sometimes crippling fears such as shyness. All of the stuff we, as adults, have to deal with, but with half the tools us grown ups should have (I say should because some of us haven’t quite worked it all out yet either).

But there are positives – come on, I’m a (double D) cup half full type of girl!

Great life experience, learning to be part of a new culture, learning how to adapt to new situations, to make new friends. Hopefully better education options if you’ve moved to somewhere like Singapore (be it in local or private school). The opportunity to travel the bigger world, as opposed to the one we all get used to at ‘home’ (see, I can’t just write home anymore). These are just some of the positives we came up with.

With a 16, 14  and nine year old we had a lot to think about when we moved over. Our eldest was just leaving secondary school and was all set to start a great college. Our middle Son was happily pottering along at his school (no mean feat when you’re not your average lad) and was happy with his family and friends close by, and our youngest had the best, bestest friends in the whole wide world and was very happy in her little world.

I remember the day we told her in particular.

(We decided against the ‘let’s make her part of the decision’ option. She’s nine for chrissake)

She cried. In fact, she howled. For hours. She begged us not to make her go. She said she would only go if she could come back in a month if she didn’t like it (and I may have quietly pretended to agree just to stop the gut wrenching sobs). At nine, she had no choice but watching your daughter say goodbye to her gorgeous friends was possibly the hardest thing I had to do (I could cry now thinking about it) Add to that the reality of our younger Son’s friends not understanding what we were doing or why and myself and his friends mum both fighting back the tears when they hugged and said ‘see ya’.

But do it we did.

That was over six months ago and it feels like another life.

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Don’t ask me how they’re doing please.

That’s a daily thing – for the first few months especially – particularly for my youngest who has definitely found it harder. Our middle Son seems ok with it all, taking it in his stride and seems pretty settled. Luckily their grandparents have been over already and that has helped them I’m sure. Our eldest – well, as a teenager that’s a tough nut to crack. He says he’s doing ok, he’s enjoying himself, he’s made friends. But really? We all wonder what goes on in those teenage heads don’t we?

So, I asked if he’d write about it for me. Amazingly he said yes.

So ladies and gentleman, from the horse’s mouth as they say. Be warned, some of it isn’t easy reading (Drinking? At 16?!) But he is honest which is what I asked for. A little insight in to how it really felt from a teenagers point of view.

Walking The Walk
by SPJ

When do jokes stop becoming jokes? When does “ah let’s just move here eh? It’s so lovely!” become reality…

The beginning of 2014 for us; for me.

Mum and Dad asked if I could spare five minutes to have a chat – a million and one things rushed through my mind as to what I’d done wrong in the past few days or, how I’d finished my homework and that I’d have to tell them once more how eight hours of Xbox is just what teenagers do – but, not once did I think we would be discussing the genuine odds of moving to Singapore. I mean, who would have?

I had always waved away the previous times mum would ask (on our trips to Singapore when Dad had to go there for work) about why we didn’t just move ‘here’ with the reply; ’Why? Why would leave friends and family? It wouldn’t be the same living here anyway, we’d be at school and work, not chilling by the pool?’ 

But the seriousness bubbled and the teasing vanished in early 2014 when I tried to digest what they were saying. What moving to Singapore really meant and how the foreseeable future would unfold.

The conversation was not brief, certainly lasting more than five minutes. I think we discussed everything from why, to what would we do with the dog. It was tough for me to fight the overwhelming word ‘no’ but I could see that it meant a lot to my parents, not just me, and yeah, actually, it really could offer great things.

I didn’t think about it much over the next couple days funnily enough. I didn’t really want to. I didn’t know how to view the broader picture in a filter that had just the right clarification for me to tell people positively. I had/have a fantastical group of friends in our infamous Essex, who I’d really got close to over the previous few years. To try to imagine how it would be to not to see them every day was hard. The security of knowing that I had one friend who only lived a minute away, another who would say yes to any proposal of what to do and one would already be lacing his boots when I wanted to play football was to be no more. And It was overwhelming. It was scary.

I clearly remember telling them.

No one would believe me the first five times I said it, but once they did, they had more questions than I had answers for. When? How long for? How often will you come back? Where will you go to school? Will you come back speaking Mandarin? (which was the only one I could answer with certainty) and, Will you be sure to stay in touch?

The thing was, I was also scared about new friends. How on earth could any of them compare!? See, it had taken me five years to gain such a tight circle of friends and now I was moving far, far away to a place where, at most, I would be staying for three years. The numbers didn’t add up.

However, the people here don’t bite. They don’t lurk under my bed and they don’t sit in their room studying for 15 hours a day, like me and my stereotyping friends were imagining. The guys and girls at school were very warm and welcoming. After the first week of starting school I had been invited to go clubbing. To go to a C L U B!
I’m 16? It’s weird!  

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But to go back to friends, I’ve managed to settle very well and have a very ‘ladsy’ group I hang around with every day. I still talk to my friends back home (yeah, I still find it hard to call this place home but not out of spite, more habit) near enough every day and dearly miss them.

Time has flown by though and we’re nearly six months in, meaning it’s also only six months till I can visit home and see them. So it really isn’t so bad at all. Just got to crack down and get through school. School was the one things I knew would be better in Singapore. It’s a lot tougher, don’t get me wrong, but the facilities and quality of teaching is so much better. Plus, the environment of ‘achievers’ pushes me, (maybe too hard at times?) and encourages me to do better in the hope of being on par. The international private school education is certainly not comparable to the state school education in Thurrock!

But what has it actually meant for me? Well, the move has certainly not hindered my contact with old friends, which was my biggest concern. ‘Fitting in’ was actually pretty easy looking back at it, plus the schooling has opened up many more opportunities than I had back home. (I played basketball in Thailand last week FGS!) It’s actually been ok. Of course not every day is a dream and everybody in the family has moments of homesickness, but collectively I think we’ve done very well and hit the road like Forest Gump (running!)

Bear Grylls so neatly ties the knot and manages to convey exactly how I feel and felt upon leaving:

“Adventure should be 80 percent ‘I think this is manageable,’ but it’s good to have that last 20 percent where you’re right outside your comfort zone. Still safe, but outside your comfort zone.”

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And it’s an adventure not yet finished.

And, as the great Dr Seuss so poetically puts it:

“ You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose”

So currently, we are sculpting our home in Singapore in to the place we want it to be. Somewhere comfortable. Somewhere we fit 🙂 

I read this with some nerves I have to say. I’m grateful beyond words for his honesty – and the fact he can string a sentence together. That Thurrock education didn’t do him too bad after all eh?

I’d love your feedback about how it is/was for you and your kids.

Playlist…

Things you might like to know…

imagesWhen you land on the wonderful little red dot it’s very exciting. The sights, sounds, smells are all new and for most people the start of a new life here is quite a buzz. But, in all honestly, it doesn’t take very long before you can become completely overwhelmed by it all.

Suddenly the most mundane things become a huge deal. Going to the supermarket can feel like an expedition to the North Pole (actually, much more like the Sahara desert). Finding a doctor is like choosing Godparents for your child, and knowing what eggs to buy – well, that’s just completely baffling.

Nearly six months in and I’m starting to feel less overwhelmed and I got to thinking of all the little things that have helped me settle in. Those subtle nuances that stop you feeling like a prize fool.

Being the kind, generous person I am I thought I’d share them with you all. So, if you’re heading over to Singers or have just arrived, have a look at this list and make notes. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can send you over the edge.

(Did I ever tell you the organic basket story??!)

Before You Arrive

  • What to bring and not to bring from your native country is such a HUGE topic I’m not going to go in to it here. What I will say is please rest assured, you can get pretty much anything you want here. Yes, some of it will be double the price of back home and you’ll kick yourself you didn’t bring a container load of it. But, you’ll also bring a whole load of stuff you don’t need, want or will ever use. For me, it was far too many clothes – and not even winter clothes, just regular stuff that never gets worn due to the heat. And stock cubes! I was led to believe you couldn’t get them here and panicked. I have a cupboard full if you want any. So, please don’t panic – and if you  are really desperate for that box of M&S chocolate shortbread, there’s always the internet.
  • If it’s at all possible visit Singapore for a week or two at least before you move. It will help you feel more comfortable with the move. If you can get to know someone who already lives here through social media or work connections, even better. Ask if they’d mind meeting you for dinner. Then bend their ear off and ask every question you’ve been storing up. Most people have been there and done that and are only to willing to answer all those questions that are keeping you up at night.

On The Road

  • If you hire (or buy if you’re stonkingly rich and flash, err, I mean if you can) a car, you will have a little device in the front window. This is called an IU device and it will be your best friend. It will get you in and out of car parks and around the roads of Singapore. However, it does need a ‘cash card’ in it and this needs ‘topping up’ regularly. IMG_2155To 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 or lifts. They can be pretty hard to spot but look like this:
    You can also top up in 7/11 stores and some petrol stations. You will also get charged when you use certain roads – you’ll notice gantry’s across roads that have details of the prices charged. Usually only a couple of dollars. 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 much longer.  Keep your cash card topped up and you’ll be fine, if not, you’ll be fined (do you see what I did there?).
  • However, don’t think just because you’ve got one of these you can park anywhere. Oh no! 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 and 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. Pop out the little round tags for time and date and you’re good to go. Always worth keeping a book of them in the glove compartment.
  • Satnavs don’t always recognise flyovers. I have nothing more to say on this. Just be aware. SAT NAVS DO NOT ALWAYS RECOGNISE FLYOVERS. Nuff said.
  • Oh, and roundabouts don’t really exist.
  • Pedestrians like to wear headphones and listen to music/watch tv whilst walking along. Don’t assume they can hear you coming in your noisy car or hear the bell on your bike. They can’t.

Time To Shop

Shopping in the supermarket can be fun. It can also be a nightmare as the choice can be baffling, the layout a bit odd and payment for things not straightforward.

  • If you buy loose fruit and veg, more often than not there’s a set of scales/weighing machine you are supposed to take the loose – but bagged items – to to be weighed and priced. These may or may not be manned. I love the diy ones as I get to play shops for a bit.
  • There may also be a bakery section within in the supermarket – that’s separate to the supermarket (even though it’s inside the shop) Usually you’ll need to pay for things from there separately. Always check before you pop something in your trolley and wander off.
  • Tissues are big here. They are used to reserve seats at hawker centres and it’s quite common to see a solitary pack of tissues sitting in the middle of a table – which basically means someone has bagged that table and are off getting their grub. Cab drivers like to give them away – no idea why! You will find them being sold outside MRT stations or in busy shopping areas, often by disabled people. As far as I understand it, this is the only way some people get to earn any money. A couple of bucks can go a long way. And who doesn’t need tissues right? Some may say they are unlicensed hawkers. Personally, I think it’s someone who’s trying to get by.
  • When shopping for clothes get ready for ‘Free Size’ This is the sizing many of the local stores use in their clothes and they will convince you that it’ll fit just fine – the size is free and meant for all. Err… no. Unless you’re size 10, possibly 12 at a push, 5ft 9 and with perfectly honed arms and cheek bones don’t bother. It won’t fit. However, don’t be put off by all the talk of being sent away from shops head hanging low after being told ‘you’re too fat for our clothes’. There are plenty of good clothes shops that stock normal size clothes in Singapore. You’ve just got to go and look. Often they look like tiny girls sizes from the outside, but inside there’s an array to choose from.

  • At the till you will be asked “Nets or Visa?” I still am not sure what the difference is between the two apart from you use a pin number for Nets and sign your signautre for Visa. I believe some stores offer discounts/promotions sometimes if you choose one over the other. At the petrol station recently, for example, I got 10% off for using Visa rather than Nets. Check you don’t get charged if it’s Visa though. Really I think it’s comes down to your personal preference. Can you remember your pin number or not? Bear in mind you need a 6-digit pin number here, so make it one you can remember.
  • If you are planning on buying big items when you arrive, or during your time in Singapore – and you are fairly well organised enough not to get in to debt – it’s worth opening a credit card here. There are lots of credit cards that give great cash back, air miles, discount options. Choose well and you’re first flight to Bali could be courtesy of your monthly food shop. Obviously look around and be sensible, there’s no point sticking everything on credit if you don’t have the money to pay it off each month.

Out & About

  • Tipping – no one tips. Well, almost no one. There is a sign at the airport apparently that says Singapore is a non tipping country. Certainly in restaurants, hotels and so on, it’s not expected that you tip as a service charge is always added. However, some people do give a couple of bucks to the petrol station attendent who fills your car up and cleans the windscreen (yep, you only have to swan out of the car, say how much and what petrol you want put in, then pay at the till – no smelly petrol hands here). But, it’s not the norm.
  • At the hawker centres, don’t be embarrassed to ask what’s what. They can be intimidating places but do offer great, cheap food. Have a wahawkers_1820293bnder round, decide what you think you may like and go for it. As it’s so cheap it really doesn’t hurt if you get it wrong. Oh, and once you’ve got your food, take a seat and a lovely Uncle will come over and ask what drink you want and bring it to you. I’m still learning when it comes to what is good, but here’s a link to a great article I read which helps explain some of the dishes. http://www.yoursingapore.com/editorials/top-ten-things-to-eat-in-singapore-hawker-edition.html
  • If someone refers to an ‘Uncle’ they don’t actually mean a blood relative – or any kind of relative. In Singapore, Uncle is a term of respect for elderly gentlemen. And Aunty is the female equivalent. I guess a bit like the British use of ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Although do be offended if you’re under 40 as I believe it is really meant for the elderly. For us ‘younger’ women, we’re called ‘Sis’ however, I’m not sure what the male younger person is called as it’s not ‘bro’. Anyone help me with this one?
  • If you are going to be getting cabs, download one of the many Apps that are available to help you book a cab. Eg. there’s Grab Taxi, Comfort Cabs, Uber etc.  You can’t just stand anywhere and stick your hand out as there are certain rules the cab drivers have to adhere to. So stick to cab ranks if you can. There are plenty around – outside shopping centres, busy areas, hotels, even large condos. Don’t panic if the line seems ridiculously long, there are A LOT of cabs in Singapore and lines tend to move quickly.
  • Don’t assume the cab driver will know the way to your destination. It’s always a good idea to have an idea of what way you want to go. I can’t work out if this is because the driver doesn’t want to be accused of taking you the ‘long’ way round or they simply do not know. (Any London cab drivers reading this?!) Google map it if you have to.
  • If a cab stops, don’t assume you’ll get a ride. This is a bit of a bug beaLook out for the green one!r of people living here and a can of worms I’m leaving be for now. If a cab is on a ‘shift change’ they’ll only take you if you are going their way.  It may helpfully say on the top of the cab where it’s heading. If it’s pouring with rain be prepared to wait a while for a cab and if you see one coming with the haloed green light – stick your hand out and wave like your life depends on it. You might get lucky…

Passes & Cards

  • If you’re going to be using the public transport system it’s worth getting an EZ Link card. These are available at most MRT stations (MRT is the local rail network – it’s brilliant), 7/11 stores and other places. Initially you have to pay about $12 and some of this is kept as the card payment, the rest is then credit to use on trains, buses, some cabs and even food and drink and leisure outlets. Very handy piece of plastic to have if you run out of cash (so long as it’s been topped up of course!)
  • Get a Passion card. It’s kind of like a Tesco club card (a UK reference, sorry for those non British) and you’ll be asked if you’re a Passion card member in a number of places. Look on the local community centre website and sign up. Costs around $12 but means you’ll get money off, coupons etc at shops and be able to access local classes at community centres.

!TOP TIP COMING UP!

  • FrazzledMake an effort for your DP pass photo. Now I’m not that vain a person, but this is one tip I wish someone had shared with me. It’s likely that you’ll rock up at the Ministry of Manpower (or the MOM as you will soon know it) probably having just arrived in Singapore. Feeling a bit low, probably a bit frazzled and definitely a bit confused. All of those feelings will show on your tired, haggard, unwashed face. Take my word for it, brush your hair, slap on a bit of makeup and look confident. That pass is going to be the one thing you see almost every day whilst living in Singapore. Which leads me to my next tip…
  • Take your dependents pass/employment pass EVERYWHERE. It’s not just the obvious things like opening a bank account or getting a TV package you’ll need it for. When buying any kind of ticket, entering a play centre or visiting the doctors you will be asked for it. You need it more often than not so keep it with you. It’ll save you a lot of hassle.

Locals

  • Can Lah or Can Can – mean yep, I’ll do that for you. You will find yourself saying it without realising. There are hundreds of other phrases and words you will hear in ‘Singlish’ – which is the local dialect/language. There are some great books to help you if you want to learn more. Or, just google Singlish and away you go.
  • There are lot of people employed here which means there is lots of help. From the petrol pump guy who will fill your car up to the many shop assistants. Don’t be surprised by the fact you can get someone to bring dog food to your house, someone else who is responsible for the garden, another person who sorts out the pest control and another guy who delivers everything from water to chips. This is the country that  ‘can lah.’  Don’t be embarrassed, this is the culture of Singapore.*

*ahem, I don’t want to start a war here, but some say that customer service is different here. Don’t take things personally if it isn’t what you’d usually expect.

Home Sick?

It’s tough leaving everyone and everything you know behind. No matter how excited you are about the move and how much you think you’re ready for it, you will have days when you wonder what the hell you’ve done. Read my piece on here about how I felt – “Home is where the heart is”. But here are some other tips for helping survive those first few months of home sickness.

  • Say yes to every suggestion of meeting up, coffee morning, play date you can. You may not like everyone you meet – you don’t have to – that’s not the point. The point is, get out there. Often, it’s not the person you’ve met, but someone you meet through them that ends up being your turn-to buddy. It’s scary to start again but it’s a necessary part of relocating. So, try not to be shy. You won’t be the only one feeling like an idiot sat at home on their own sobbing because they haven’t had a chin wag for days. It takes time, so the sooner you get going the sooner you’ll have a friend or two. I hesitated far too much and so missed out on some great meet ups I’m sure. Now I try to be much more open and say yes more.
  • Remind yourself where you are every now and then. The fact you are living in this amazing city with so many stunning places on your doorstep waiting for you to explore. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a look at the weather, news, or local FB page of your home town. That often helps pick me up  😉
  • Pick up a tablet (the electronic kind, not the packet!), phone or get on the computer and FaceTime, Skype, email someone back home. Tell them how you’re feeling. My sister sent me a lovely bunch of flowers when she knew I was down and a card with such kind words it made my day. Also, remind your friends that there is nothing quite like a hand written letter through the post. But make sure you reciprocate and write to them too.
  • Talk to someone here about how you’re feeling. Without a doubt someone else will be feeling the same, or have been through it.
  • If you need help don’t be shy and ask for it. Where to find the best meat? What to do about child care? Should you worry if you’ve upset the neighbours dog? What does a red letter gift mean?  Whatever it is, someone else has probably asked it before. There a quite a few Facebook sites now – just put in Singapore expat and a whole load will come up. Singapore Expat Wives and The Real Singapore Expat Wives are two of the most popular. They can become addictive though – be warned!
  • In a similar way accept help too. You’ll be amazed how quickly people – locals and expats alike – will offer to help, especially if they know you’re stuck or struggling. Whilst you may only ever have left your child with their Nanna at home, here you’ll have to get used to asking friends to help out now you’re here (again, reciprocation is the key). Need someone to feed the cat whilst you’re away? Then get to know your neighbours. It can be weird as you barely know these people who offer their help, but saying yes and thanking them is the best way forward, believe me.
  • And finally, when all is said and done remember…

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This is by no means an exhaustive list. Any newbie Expats reading this, please add your tips to the comments section below. Any old hands – come on, pass on yours. Anyone a soon-to-be expat? What kind of tips are you looking for?

For more useful advice and tips, take a look at ‘more things you might like to know’ here! I wrote this after the overwhelming response I got to part 1. Hope you like it.