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.

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Special Delivery

online-shopping-security-lead.ashx_

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!

Free-sign
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!

Speed bump ahead!

I originally posted this almost two years ago when I hit my ‘speed bump’  A lot has changed for me since then but I know many of you are just getting to ‘the speed bump.’ Honestly, you’ll get over it – it is only a bump in the road, I promise.

The other reason for re-posting is so that the next post I’m currently writing make slightly more sense… I hope!

Speed Bump Ahead!

So, you are now officially an expat. You are living in Singapore. This is your ‘home’.

You’ve made the huge move away from all you know and love. You’ve found somewhere to live, made friends, visited some amazing places and been blown away by the amount there is to do on this one tiny island. The kids (if you’ve got them) are settled, you may even have found yourself a job. You have even been tour guide to visiting friends and family. Things seem to be going swimmingly well.

Yeah, that’s what I thought too. And then… bleurgh!

Speed_bump

Being a bit under the weather didn’t help, but after a couple of weeks of feeling a bit ‘out of sorts’ I started to wonder. What was wrong with me? I was physically ok’ish (well I’m no olympic athlete still) really.  A friend noticed and asked if I was ok. Not really I admitted. I felt low, fed up, bored and each day seemed to be a non starter.

You see, I have all this time on my hands and find I am literally busy doing nothing. What do I do all day is a question I battle with constantly. And it is a battle. To answer! I tend to cough a bit when people ask and shrug nonchalantly. I might splutter out something like:

Well…I catch up on Facebook – which is a whole other story but mark my words, there will be a Facebook Anonymous group. I read and send emails, I do house admin. I might go to the shops if I need something, (but as you know, me and shopping malls do not get along so I only do that when absolutely necessary). Oh, on a Monday I do Yoga – yay! And yeah, I might meet someone for coffee (I hate coffee, but saying you’re meeting someone for tea doesn’t sound right does it?) every now and then.

mood-writingAll these plans I had for filling my time. Writing every day, VectorToons.comgetting on with trying to get my book published, getting uber fit, seeing the hidden gems of Singapore.

Nadah!

And why?

That’s what I couldn’t work out. Why I wasn’t spending my time in a way that was more fulfilling? I haven’t got the excuse of house work, or young kids at home, or anything really.  After weeks of visitors you’d think I’d be glad to have my days back to myself and want to get stuck in. I did wonder if that was the problem. I had got used to having people here. But no, it’s not that.

Then, my friend told me. I’d come to the six month speed bump. Hit the wall.

Apparently it happens to many of us expat women.

We have spent the first six or so months running round like headless chickens setting up home, making sure the rest of the family are ok, learning where to buy meat, fruit, veg and toothpaste, got to know the neighbourhood and generally got ourselves used to this new life.

And then it starts to feel more normal. The satnav isn’t on the whole time – both in the car and in your head. You no longer feel like a visitor and you feel more at home.

Speed_bumpBump!

But it’s not really quite home. There are still things that you haven’t worked out. Like why the milk is not quite right. Why everyday things cost SO much.  There are still places you’re not sure of. Still new challenges to face each week. So you feel comfy, but not comfy enough.

For me it’s also the friendship thing. I’m lucky to have met some lovely people since being here and I’m sure some of them will be friends for a long time (God help us!)

But there are also those that I know I have nothing in common with aside from the fact we both live in Singapore. There is definitely a forced friendship thing going on in this kind of situation. I’m so used to having a solid group of friends who’s needs we mutually fulfil. I’m struggling to know what to do with these new friends I’m not really connecting with. Who should I call to come shopping when I need to find a dress for a special occasion? Who’s going to be a good person to ask for help with the kids? Who can I trust to listen and not judge when things are not going well? Who’s the one who can be relied on for a good night out? Who is more of a sit at home and watch a movie kind of friend?

These are all things we have to keep learning and this in itself takes up a lot of time. No wonder I’m not getting anything done eh?

From talking to others, another bump can be around the other half. Long working hours, constant travelling and work commitments take their toll quite quickly.

I’m know I’m not alone not being comfortable being regarded as ‘the trailing spouse’. Many women I’ve met have left behind good careers to come here. Getting a job here isn’t necessarily an easy option when here on a Dependent Pass. Also, the fact that their partner, who’s job has brought them here, is working so many hours and travelling so much that any kind of work commitment on the women’s part would tip the balance for the family.

Even the term ‘trailing spouse’ makes me feel so insignificant. Like I’m a damp mop being dragged around the place. Or, worst still, some kind of limpet.

Of course, we can’t complain because without their important job we wouldn’t have been given this amazing opportunity to live here on the dot. Right?

No one back home really gets it either. After all, in their eyes we’re here in our lovely big places, with help of some kind usually, money is possibly a bit easier, we have lots of exciting new things to see and do. Also, a big part for anyone from colder climes –  it’s always sunny. 🙂

That seems to be the general opinion doesn’t it?

Yes we have a lovely house/apartment – but it’s not OURS. If we have help – although we do feel grateful for this every day, it brings a whole host of new things to learn. Yep tax benefits are brilliant, but Singers is not a cheap place to live. Yep, there’s loads to do, but do we want to schlep around on our own? And as for the weather. Wow it is warm.

But… hang on, you’re right. I can’t argue with that one, sitting outside every day for every meal is amazing.

So that’s when I check myself.  I remind myself about the good stuff. The sound of the birds as we eat breakfast outside every morning. My daughter said recently “I like living here; it’s like being in a rainforest every day. Oh, we are aren’t we.” 

The freedom to let the children be more independent. The fact that I can drive straight in to the city in 10 minutes (traffic allowing) and find every shop imaginable. That we can go for a night out in town and be home in 20 minutes tops.

IMG_4223

The Substation wall in Armenian Street

I love the fact that I see amazing new things every day like the wall art next to the Peranakan museum, the temple opposite the park I walk the dog in or the beautifully colourful shop houses in Little India.

I am grateful to be here. I’m happy to be here. I am excited about what’s to come. It’s just a bit lonely at times.

IMG_0438

Some of the colourful shophouses around Little India

But it’s good to know that these feelings are completely normal and will pass. They are just another part of this new life we’re making for ourselves.

It’s good to know that others hit these speed bumps too. Let me know if you have won’t you?

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.

Are we there yet?

Before I left the UK, a friend asked when I thought I would feel ‘settled’. When I would look around me and say, yep, this is the life.

question-mark-22537418I wondered too. In fact I’m still wondering.

When you move to a new country there is so much to get used to. New people, new roads, new house, new school, new friends, new ways of doing things (remind me to tell you about the pavements, and don’t even get me started on the driving).

Don’t get me wrong, I know Singapore is one of the easiest places to move to –  the people here speak the same language as me, eat food I’m happy to eat, live in homes I’m happy to live in (not with them!). It’s a good gig really. But there is still so much to get used to. The whole way of being here is different. Not bad different. But different.

There have been a few eureka moments already.

The first time I got to the school and back without getting lost – I gave myself a huge pat on the back for that. When I was shopping at the supermarket and knew to take my fruit and veg to be bagged and weighed before heading to the cash till. Also, again at the supermarket when I didn’t stand and gawp at the chicken feet (no idea what they taste like as haven’t gone there yet) with my mouth wide open.  Another time was when making an appointment and heard myself saying, ‘oh no, I’m seeing a friend that day.’

All of these little baby steps are leading me down the right path, I hope.images

Then, of course, just when I start to feel like I’ve got a grip on things and can start to relax something comes along to bite me on the bum. Just last week I took the wrong turn to a place I’ve gone to a dozen times and ending up going completely in the wrong direction. In the end I gave up and came home.

Each day seems busier which I guess is a good sign. I still laugh at myself a lot as it can take me all day to get one thing done. I’m very easily distracted you see. But, each day there is something else that reminds me that I do really live here, and actually it is feeling more like home. For example, I’m not wearing my hair up every single minute of every single day; I seem to be adjusting to the heat. The aircon isn’t on quite as much and when the radio announcer said “it’s chilly at 26 degrees today” I get what he meant.  When I get in a cab and tell the driver where I’m going when they ask me how to get there, I don’t panic. (Yep, it seems to be a cab driver here you don’t actually have to know your way around. No ‘knowledge’ needed. London black cab drivers take note!)

But, as for feeling like we’ve settled. I’m still wondering – are we there yet?

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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Down sizing/de-cluttering?

Whatever you like to call it, when moving to the other side of the world there’s a lot of both that needs to happen – and then some!

relocatingI began being quite excited by the idea of getting rid of the junk. Removing all the clutter and ridding ourselves of some of the detritus that seemed to forever take over the house. I think the first room I started was the spare room. After all, that was going to be one of the easier ones to do right?

To call it a spare room for a start is a laugh. Ironing lived in there in humongous piles. Clothes the children had grown out of fought for squatting rights in there too; waiting on the day I’d finally find them a new home. Toys that were no longer given the time of day, bits of furniture that didn’t ‘work’ elsewhere. Oh, and not forgetting the boxes of old crockery, unwanted gifts, old soft toys and all sorts of other bits and pieces I’d acquired and was storing for the school fair.

It all lived in the room meant for guests. Good job we did have very many guests.

Sorry, I digress. So, months before we were due to leave I began the big clear our. My enthusiasm lasted about err, two hours. After that I lost the will to live. That first day really was an exercise in moving unwanted staff from one place to another. By the back door went things destined for the charity shop. The dining table was piled high with bags of things to give to friends. The bin was full of rubbish. Oh, hang on, of course it was. But, this was type of rubbish it takes a move to the other side of the world for me to see was actually rubbish.

The kitchen had mini piles of things I thought family would use. From that day forward it became a standing joke amongst my mum and sisters that they could no longer leave the house empty-handed. I prayed on their insecurities and their weaknesses.

“What if? You might need it for…”  “it’ll definitely come in handy at Xmas.”

My poor family now have houses full of things they neither wanted, needed or will use. Sorry guys!

After that fateful day of moving things around – and I did get the room cleared – I made lists instead. Ooh I LOVE a list. I made a list of what room needed what sorting out. Then a list for when I would do said room. A list of what I might need to do in each room once it had been sorted. Procrastinate became my middle name.

In the mean time, the once proudly clear spare room was beginning to fill up again. This time with boxes of stuff I was slowly sorting out. But it was slow going and time was ticking by.

After a bit of a meltdown one day my family rallied round and offered to help me organise/de-clutter. Apprehensively I agreed to a day the following week when we’d all get stuck in. First though, I needed a list for that. Who was sorting what to where?

The day arrived – we’ll call it the Essex Kitchen Nightmares day shall we?

When mum arrived I explained there were three ways to sort. Ship, Air or Pack.

If it didn’t fit in to one of those three groups, it was going. No questions asked. Right?

Ah, but  I wasn’t counting on dad coming too was I? Now, my dad isn’t a hoarder as such, but he does hate waste. To this day, I’m sure mum has no idea of what is stashed in their garage.

And then my emotions started to get involved.

“But I can’t NOT take Nan’s rose bowl can I?”

Questions arose over my favourite tea mug. Could I live without it for the next eight weeks? Would it make it if I tried to pack it? What about the new tea set my friends had bought for me. Should that go by ship, air or what? And should I just by all new cutlery or take some?

But, despite all my procrastinating, we did make progress. Little sis came to help too. She was on the list to sort towels and bedding. Again, same way of how to sort – ship, air, pack. Now, unlike mum – who either got it straight away, or much like the whole us moving away thing, she refused to think about it too much – little sis needed some explanation of what this meant. I thought it was straightforward really.

Ship meant anything we definitely wanted to take, but could wait eight weeks for and didn’t need in the next few weeks. You see, the ship set sail three weeks before us and arrived four weeks after.

Air meant anything we wanted to take and needed as soon as we got there, but that we could live without for a few weeks. Anything going by air left our house three weeks before we did, but arrived the same day.

Pack was anything we definitely wanted to take, but couldn’t live without, not for one day (think tea mug). So this stuff I was going to pack in our suitcases and was part of our luggage allowance, so nothing too heavy!

Oh, and silly me, there was also another category. The ‘staying but not taking’ sub group. Clearly, this was anything that we didn’t want to take, but maybe needed until the day we left. After that we would dump it. (Ahem, embarrassed cough. Actually, we just ended up taking most of this stuff to my mums on our last day, or leaving it for her to clear from outside the house. Best laid plans and all that. I’m guessing it got dumped??)

A-storage-locker-as-a-noetic-structureOh, and there was the other, sub, sub group. Storage. In this box – which turned in to a whole bloody storage lock up – were the things we didn’t want to take, but couldn’t bear to give or throw away.

So a good plan of action, lists to follow and jobs allocated. Simples!

Again, much like spare room day, Essex Kitchen Nightmares day meant piles of things everywhere. Again there was a lot of moving things around from one place to another. But, at the end of the day there were boxes boxed up to ship (Gulp!). Boxes of bedding to go by air so that we’d have something to sleep on when we arrived. Post it notes on every cupboard and drawer shouting “Don’t touch, to be packed!” and “Can use, don’t pack!” And simply “Ship!”. It all made perfect sense to us.

And so it continued like this over the coming months. Slowly but surely each room in the house got ‘organised’ – things were sorted, organised in to their group and labelled accordingly. It was Toy Story 3 on a grand scale.

Post it notes became my best friends. I knew where I stood with those lurid yellow notelets.

post-it-note-with-a-pinEvery single thing we owned was labelled – it was either going the long way round, going the short way or staying with us for the duration. Oh, and sub group ‘being dumped (at mums house) and the sub, sub group, going into storage.

And so, after what felt like the longest build up, the packers arrived on that fateful day in July.

I had every confidence in my well organised and finely tuned system. Ship. Air. Pack. (Dump {storage}). Simples!

Mmmm….

So, why oh why, when we arrived in Singapore and, in a house empty of everything except the five of us (jet lagged) and an oh so happy to be out of the crate dog, did we end up sharing three sheets, two towels and with no pants???

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Just some of the boxes destined for our new home.

Park Life

Bishan Park – or Ang Mo Kio Park

Where: Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.
Why? For fresh air, fun and time to chill.
When? Every day of the week (anyone else breaking out in to song?)
Cash heavy? Nope, don’t need a penny, though you could take some to spend in the  cafe/restaurants if you like.
Kid friendly? Hell yeah!  There’s a playground, water playground (open at weekends only), acres of grass as well as loads of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Dog friendly? Yes! With it’s two designated dog runs this is the place for your pampered pooch to stretch his or her legs. Though it does get busy. Outside of the run, keep your dog on a lead.
Disabled access? Yes, the paths are wide and clear.
Getting there. There’s a large car park with coupon parking. Lots of bus routes go past Bishan Park.
Extra titbit. The water in the river and ponds that run through the park are kept clean WITHOUT chemicals apparently. Some clever plants do the job instead. 
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Stepping stones for the brave. During heavy rain these can become inaccessible though so watch your step!

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And always cautious, the local council put up a few warning signs.

The nitty gritty:

Bishan is my local park and lucky me. It is sprawling, lush, stunning and a fascinating place to wander around. Every morning the place is swarming with local people keeping fit – many in large groups (wearing matching t-shirts) – doing all kinds of exercise from Tai Chi to fan dances, jogging to meditation. I’ve even seen a few backward walkers. Who knew? At one end of the park is a fitness area where many congregate to do a series of push ups, sits ups, chin ups and every other kind of up you can think of. They take their fitness seriously here obviously. And of course there’s the joggers, walkers and roller bladers following the parks 3k route.

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Exercise is for wimps!

An amazing lily pond that stretches further than any frog prince could hop is a pleasant discovery around one bend and there are a large number of sun loungers big enough for the whole family to sit on. Add to this a great play area for big and little kids alike and a splash park to cool off in (weekends only) this place really rocks as far as parks go. And, to top it all, if you get a bit peckish you can head for one of the cafes. I have yet to eat in one of them but will try it out and get back to you.

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Woody looking for his Prince?

Taking the dog for a walk is definitely a lot more interesting in Bishan than it used to be back in the UK (think circling a cricket pitch over and again). It is a great place to take the kids when they want to let of some steam and a fab place to meet a group of friends for a picnic. You can even learn to roller blade if you like…

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

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5 out of 5 – woohoo!

Aside

Moving to a little red dot

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Having visited Singapore for years on family holidays and with my husband on business trips, the idea of moving here had always been appealing.

I would always recount how wonderful the place is. The smell of Singapore always gets to me (in a good way, it doesn’t stink!). It’s climate – which doesn’t change much – is one I feel comfortable in. The culture is fascinating due to its diversity. The rules and regulations that have many scratching their heads, seem to make sense to me (for the moment at least). The fact that it is a gateway to so many other amazing places is just fantastic. All of these things and more make Singapore one of my favourite places to be in the world. But living here?

Like many people we were living our lives quite happily following the 9 to 5, with good friends and family close by, in a lovely house that we’d spent years doing up. Our kids were settled in their various schools and in their friendship groups. But, for me at least, there was always that yearning for adventure. To travel. To see the world. To broaden my, and my families, horizons. To show the kids that there is more to life. To give them opportunities to grow in new ways, to stretch themselves, to build stronger characters.

So when we were given the opportunity to go on such an adventure, the question we kept asking ourselves was why would we say no?

Well, there’s the screaming nine-year old who’s having an emotional melt down about leaving her Nanna and cousins. The 16-year old who will have to start college in a new country with no friends to fall back on – at a time when friends mean more than anything. And a 13-year old who struggles with the expectations of the small world he lives in now, let alone asking him to adjust to a bigger world. Not forgetting those we leave behind and the impact that so clearly has. Our family who have to learn to live without us round the corner, who won’t see the children’s milestones and achievements first hand. Friends who can no longer pop by for a cuppa and a chat, even work colleagues who rely on us.

Oh, and then there are the practicalities of moving  your whole life to another country. Do we really need 5 bath towels each? Should I take a few blankets ‘just in case’? Can you get Tetley t-bags out there or should I take enough to last three years? Add to the mix trying to decide what furniture you’ll need in a yet-to-be-seen house and what do you do with the things you are not taking? It all becomes slightly more of an exercise in stress management.

So many things to think about it that it can – and does – become overwhelming.

But, we did it. And this blog is about our experience getting here – and the fun we are sure to have (well we better had!) whilst we are here.

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Shall we?

It was just before Christmas 2013 when my husband came home from work and said those immortal words: “They want me to move to Singapore.”

They being his company.

Me being all of us.

Having covered that part of the world for years it had always been a possibility – and one that I’d been secretly hoping for. We, as a family, had visited Singapore many times. Either accompanying my husband on a work trip and tagging a holiday on the end or as a stopover to Thailand or Oz.

We all loved the place.

Loved the smell of it, the feel of it, the amazing skyline. I even liked the ‘big brotherness’ of it. I’d often joked to my eldest Son that we’d move there some day.

But actually doing it… Now that was different.

My immediate reaction was yes, let’s do it. I’m a firm believer in you never regret the things you do, only the things you don’t. But then we got to thinking, and talking, and thinking some more.

What about our Son who was just doing his last year at senior school and was applying for college? What about our younger son, who by way of having an extra chromosome, meant things that upset his routine can be harder on him. And our daughter, who was happily settled at school with friends who lived close by? Could we really turn their world upside down? Then there were our families to think about.

Just the thought of telling my parents – who lived just around the corner and we see most days – made me break out in a cold sweat and fight back an avalanche of tears. My sisters? Would they be cross that I was leaving them or happy for me? And the dog. Oh My God the dog. I immediately welled up at the thought of leaving him. But, he’s a big dog. Could we take him? Would we be able to find a house to rent if we had a dog?

All of these questions and a whole load more were spinning around my head constantly for days.

Some of them – well, most of them – still are. Some we have answered, some we haven’t. But, deep down, we knew.

It was time for our new adventure…   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA