Hit the road

Driving in Singapore. Madness or a necessity?

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

IMG_4446Happy Motoring!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A typical road gantry

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

Top up machines are easy to find

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Watch out for motorbikes

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

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…And Evel Knievel wannabee’s

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

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

Seriously – wth?

 

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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

Bitters & Love

image3This place was one of the first cocktail bars I visited here in Singapore. My husband and I were looking for somewhere to go where we could chat, have a few drinks and just spend some time together. We hit the jackpot straight away. Since then the bar has actually moved venues, but it still has the same relaxed vibe.

Bitters & Love is run by a guy called Ernest. He came over to us that first evening and introduced himself. Now here’s a guy who loves his job. He was so enthusiastic about the drinks he was serving, the venue, the food, the staff and his customers that we ended up chatting for quite a while. He told us how he’d started the bar himself and wanted to provide a space where people could have a good time and feel at home. It was then he introduced my husband to Geranium gin – apparently its the stuff of dreams. As someone who doesn’t drink gin I couldn’t tell you, but suffice to say it’s now one of hubby’s favourite drinks.

As for the cocktails, the bar staff – who will make you feel welcome immediately – will ask what kind of drink you like, what base, mixer etc. But they don’t need specifics as its the detail they’re good at.

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The perfect alternative to my beloved tea.

I requested something with white rum or vodka base, fruity but not too sweet. I admit to being a bit sceptical at first as wasn’t sure I’d get a drink I’d actually be able to drink, let alone like. But I needn’t have worried. What I got was a little slice of heaven. I don’t know how they knew about me and my tea thing but really, could it have been more ‘me’? It tasted amazing with just the right amount of rum along with something that gave it a kick. The passion fruit gave it a nice fruity edge with enough sharpness to not make it sickly. Yum!

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Bread and jam with your cocktail – why not?

The next one I chose from their cocktail menu. They call it breakfast in a glass – a little jar full of Singapore. For me, it was a little too sweet but hey, that’s Kaya jam for you, but I loved the presentation. The rest of the evening was spent trying some other flavours whilst hubby tucked in to more of the gin. Overall we had a fab night and agreed we’d go back again soon.

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Look out for the subtle sign!

A few weeks later some girlfriends and I were meeting for cocktails and I suggested we try out the ‘new’ Bitters & Love (having heard it had moved home). It’s a bit hidden away and hard to spot – as all the best bars in Singapore are – and it did feel a bit like we were stepping in to a building site. But I quite liked the lack of pretension and the quirky scribble on the doorway letting you know you were in the right place.

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We were ‘quackers’ about this one (sorry!)

Once inside, Fiona, one of the lovely bar staff (who was quick to apologise for the lack of ‘real door’) showed us to our table. Luckily we’d booked ahead as it does get pretty busy. We all ordered different drinks and again the service was helpful, quick and friendly. The drinks we got were completely different to each other. This one was a particular favourite. Despite it’s ‘rock’ name (Tuscan Trident) it was a bit of a cutie – and tasted amazing.

We all loved the atmosphere of the bar and could have happily spent the night there. The only negative for us was that we were sat right under a speaker and couldn’t hear each other properly. However, as soon as we mentioned this to Fiona she turned it down a touch for us.

The food at B&L is worth a try too. With cubes of beef, potatoes ‘chips’ and other yummy favourites on the menu, it’s comfort food at its best.

Overall, as a bar goes, B&L is up there with one of the most comfortable, entertaining (the staff can really throw those bottles around) and friendly joints in Singapore. Add to the mix the amazing cocktails they serve, it’s well worth a visit in my opinion.

If you go along, tell them Five Go Mad says hi!

Bitters & Love
118 Telok Ayer Street
Tel:6438 1836
https://www.facebook.com/BittersandLove?fref=ts

 

Gallery

Cocktail O’Clock

aa7fb7bbe087d1ffea4f39efe9306a49 (1)As a confirmed wine drinker it seems Singapore is not the best place to be. Not that the wine here isn’t good, oh no, it’s fine. But it’s so expensive. Also, in my experience it does have something in it that is bad for you – I think it’s called alcohol? The day after consuming wine in Singapore is particularly trying I find. Maybe it’s the heat, or the option of hawker food that has to be consumed immediately?

I don’t know. It’s just not good.

So, with this in mind, I thought I’d turn my attention elsewhere. To cocktails. Those lovely concoctions (what a great word that is!) of blended drinks that can pretty much cover anything from the cringingly named Sex On The Beach to the ever stylish Martini.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word cocktail (when related to drink) is defined as ‘an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or spirits mixed with other ingredients such as fruit juice or cream.’ Nowadays things have moved on and these ‘other ingredients’ can also include herbs, bacon, chocolate or eggs, to name but a few.

mohito-cocktailFor some, mixing your drinks is a normal night out (have you seen Geordie Shore?) But, for those of us with a more sophisticated palate (or those who are more poncy) going out for cocktails is a relatively new thing to do.

Before moving to Singapore, it was really only on holiday somewhere hot and sunny that I’d drink cocktails* (oh, yes, now I see, I now do live somewhere hot and sunny now – doh!)

Anyway, I digress. There seems to be a new cocktail bar opening up in Singapore every week at the moment and what makes it so interesting is that they really seem to know their stuff. Gone are the long lists of bizarrely named drinks with five or six ingredients. Instead the age of the bespoke cocktail has arrived. Now, you simply tell the waiter/ess what ‘base’ (alcohol) you like, what kind of flavour you want (fruity, sour, bitter, dry) and let their mixologist do the rest.

Obviously it’s a gamble – but one that I’ve found often pays off with a wonderfully flavoured drink that you’d never have tried otherwise. Sometimes it pays to be a bit adventurous and try something new, but you’ll soon get to know what you like and really don’t like.

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So, with cocktails being such a big part of the night scene here in Singapore I thought I’d start trying out a few – just for research purposes and only for the good of you, my lovely readers of course.

Please let me know what did you think? Do you like the idea of bespoke cocktails? What’s been the best cocktail you’ve had so far? Comment after my posts and let me know.

In the mean time I’m off to try a lychee mojito…

Horndon mud slide anyone?

Horndon mud slide anyone?

* Actually, this is not strictly true. A few may have been drunk in a not so hot or sunny village in Essex. I have to give a shout out to the legendary Mr B who is, in fact, according to those in the know, a bit of whizz amateur cocktail maker. Many have succumbed to his charms and drunk down one too many of his delicious tasting – but wickedly potent – drinks only to wake up the next day wondering what’s hit them. Always ‘service with a smile.’

Mr B when you open up that bar I’m first on the guest list – but don’t forget the tea!

Peranakan Museum

Peranakan museum

Peranakan Museum

Where: The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, 179941.
Why? To finally find out what Peranakan actually means. To discover more about the history of Singapore.
When? Open daily 10am-7pm. Till 9pm on a Friday.
Cash heavy? Nope! Just $6 per entry, $3 for PR.
Kid friendly? Yes. there were hands on displays to keep them interested. There was a group of school children there whilst I was there and they looked like they were having fun. Strollers allowed in all galleries and there’s a changing room on level 1.
Dog friendly? No, but then why would it be?
Disabled access? Yes, all galleries have wheelchair access and there are disabled toilets and parking spaces nearby.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is City Hall. Alternatively it’s about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town and there are bus stops nearby.
Extra titbit. Look out for the poem about how to be a good daughter-in-law. When you’ve finished at the museum have a wander down the street and check out the amazing street art.
Website/Contact: http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg Tel: +65 6332 7591

The nitty-gritty:

The term Peranakan is talked about a lot here in Singapore. For quite a while I had no idea what it actually meant. I knew it referred to something – or someone? – local and that there were lots of lovely housewares you could buy in the ‘Peranakan design.” I figured it referred to the indigenous people of Singapore; the forefathers of this modern city. However, a trip to the Peranakan museum made me realise that there is so much more to it than that.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

This small museum is in what used to be the Tao Nan Chinese School, one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore and is right by the city’s business district. With it’s dashing pastel coloured frontage, its arched verandahs and grand entrance way, the quietly imposing building catches you by surprise as you wander along Armenian Street. As you walk though the doors in to an atrium filled with light, you can’t help but notice the two huge symmetrical staircases that lead up either side of the building to corridors and galleries on the upper levels. As museums go, it’s very inviting – not stuffy or library like at all.

So, what is Peranakan? To quote the museum themselves “In Malay, Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.” To put this in to context, years ago, way before Singapore was the high-rise city it is now, it was seen as a place of opportunity for many neighbouring countries due to its free port. This was mainly due to Singapore’s unique location on the major sea route between India and China. It quickly became a hub of trading and many Chinese immigrants came to make their fortune here – and never left. These travellers – although mainly Chinese, there were also Indian and Eurasian Portuguese – married local Malay (non muslim) women and their culture became known as Peranakan.

There are things displayed everywhere.

There are things displayed everywhere.

The first collection I visited in the museum was a series of photographs of modern-day Peranakan people accompanied by quotes about what being Peranakan means to them. There was a strong sense of belonging and tradition in most of what I read. Something that was echoed throughout other exhibits too. At the end of the room is a film showing the early Peranakan history.

I then went up to the first level where you can see art, clothing, furniture, traditions associated with the Peranakan culture. With nine galleries all themed with things such as Weddings, religion, food and feasting, it really does give you an insight in to how life would have been like years ago in Singapore. It also reflected on how this manifests in modern Singapore too.

The colourful Nonya ware.

The colourful Nonya ware.

My favourite exhibits included the amazing display of Nonya ware – the Peranakan design porcelain ware – including a full table laid for twenty plus guests. The fully dressed, parading wedding party was interesting too. There were artefacts all around the museum including at the top of the stairs and hanging above doors.

I'm not sure how far I'd walk in these...

I’m not sure how far I’d walk in these…

I was keen to learn about the Nonya (Peranakan lady), especially the rituals around getting married and was surprised by how many traditions there are. Many women it seems no longer follow these rituals to the book, but some do still survive. The room that focused on religion and in particular the rituals around death was fascinating – if a bit eery – and I can see that these customs are still in play today amongst modern-day Peranakans.

Other displays to look out for include the intricate beadwork, the fashion and the display about the many Peranakans who became cultural and philanthropic leaders.

They even have their own cat!

They even have their own cat!

The museum is an interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You can get around it in a couple of hours quite easily. On your way out visit the gift shop and pick up one of their beautiful hand-made cards or find a replica of the beadwork you had previously admired. There’s even a foodie shop where you can pick up some traditional Peranakan treats. A very pleasant way to while a few hours for sure.

Oh, and then have a wander down Armenian Street, there’s some amazing street art on the building just next door and some lovely little shop houses with pots of tropical plants and canaries in cages hanging out front. There’s an interesting looking restaurant that I want to go back to as well serving traditional Peranakan food.

Well worth the visit.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5  (out of 5)

Clarke Quay

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Where: 3 River Valley Road. 179024  to Clifford Pier, 80 Collier Quay, 049326.
Why? For a wander, a ride along the river and some great sightseeing.
When? Any time you like, it’s always there.
Cash heavy? Depends on what you do. To just walk is free. River boat tours are around $20 per person. Food is as much as you want to spend.
Kid friendly? Yes. Just keep an eye as you are by the river after all. But wide open spaces to walk along and easy for a stroller.
Dog friendly? Yes but only on a lead and not on the boats or in restaurants.
Disabled access? Yes, although it can be a bit tricky as you need to go around some buildings. Boat access check http://www.rivercruise.com.sg
Getting there. Clarke Quay MRT and Raffles Place MRT. 10 minutes from CBD by taxi.
Extra titbit. If you’re feeling really adventurous take the reverse bungee ride – not for the faint hearted!
Website/Contact: http://www.rivercruise.com.sg. http://www.fullertonbayhotel.com
The nitty gritty 

Whenever we have visitors the first place we take them, often jet lagged and little bit bleary-eyed is Clarke Quay. I’m not sure if it’s the colourful shutters of the MICA building (housing Government ministries) that I think will awaken their tired eyes. Or the towering city scape that comes in to view as you round the bend that I hope will impress them. Or the mix of bars, cafes and restaurants that can feed them whenever the need arises? Maybe it’s my old love, the Merlion – the original guardian of the city – who stands tall and proud at the mouth of the river, that I want to show off?

Who knows? I just feel it’s a great place to introduce anyone to this lovely city we call home. It has such a lot of history attached to it as the first port of Singapore. As recent as the 1970’s traders were still pedalling their wares on the banks of the river, and Clarke Quay was a noisy mix of bumboats (tongkangs) and lighters (twakows) unloading their cargoes. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles step foot on the northern bank of the river and saw its potential as a free port it has been a hubbub for the island. But it hasn’t always been the lovely stretch of water it is now. With all the heavy traffic it encountered and the number of people living on, by and around the river it became heavily polluted and congested.

In 1977, the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew began a clean up operation that took ten years to complete. Involving relocating many hawkers, squatters, industries and immigrants, this clean up has got to go down as one of the biggest successes for Singapore. For the river is now beyond recognition with it’s attractive waterway walks, bustling restaurants and grand hotels that line the river. At the same time it has stayed true to it’s rich heritage and celebrates its history.

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing day out and don’t mind a stroll. Or, if you’ve visitors who have just arrived and you don’t have  a clue where to start, here’s my suggestion for a fab day by the river.

Take the MRT to Clarke Quay station, come out at the river, turn right and head towards Clifford Pier. On the way you will find many statues to catch your eye – from the large bird sculpture (symbolising peace, serenity, the joy of living and the power of optimism apparently!), to the often photographed jumping boys or ‘The First Generation’ to give them their proper names. In fact, if you are taking young children, make a game of this – challenge them to find the jumping boys, the cats, the traders, the bullock cart, and even Sir Stamford Raffles himself (on the opposite bank, but easily spotted if you are keeping a look out).

As you head under South Bridge you will enter Boat Quay which will be obvious from the plethora of eateries that spring up along here. You will be encouraged to sit down, relax, have a bite to eat or ‘just a drink madam?’ In fact, this is one of only a few streets in Singers where you will be approached by restaurant staff keen for your custom.  But this is Singapore, so don’t worry, you can easily say no thank you and they won’t be offended. There are many options, so if you are hungry give somewhere a try. Fresh fish and shellfish are on display too so you can even pick out what you’d like served up!

fish tanks

Fresh fish anyone?

 

Fed and watered? Then keep walking and you will saunter past The Fullerton Hotel – an iconic hotel that has been on the same site since 1928 and had previously dominated the city’s skyline (pre skyscrapers and MBS). Placed under conservation at the beginning of last century, The Fullerton is one of those hotels that oozes colonial Singapore. If you want to soak up some of its history you can visit one of its restaurants or bars. If not, just oggle those that are as you walk by.

Keep going and walk around the mouth of the river heading for the Merlion Park. Standing 8.6 meters tall, this is where the guardian of Singapore now lives after moving from further down the river in 2002. Join the other tourists and see if you can capture a photo of the Merlion spouting water directly in to your mouth. This really is selfie heaven so be patient with the many tourists that are around. It’s worth it though for that one good shot. Look out for the Merlion cub too that sits just behind mum. Always a nice photo opportunity for the kids.

Merlion

The Mighty Merlion

 

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Nearly mum!

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Just a bit more

Oh, and you may just notice another famous landmark or two whilst you’re there too. More photo opportunities as you try to lift the famous Marina Bay Sands with your bare hands, or push round the Singapore Eye. If you’re not sure what to do, just look around and take your cues from those in the know.

Once you’ve had your fill of photo taking head towards Clifford Pier and buy a ticket for a river boat ride. Yes, it’s worth it! Here you’ll get a chance to sail down the river you’ve been meandering past for the last hour or so. Jump aboard (or step precariously, depending on your sea legs – but it’s completely calm so no need to worry!) a traditional bumboat. They all have video commentary that will tell you more about the fascinating history of the river and Singapore itself.

bumboat

Take a bumboat ride along the river

 

This is a great thing to do come rain or shine as on a hot day you can catch the breeze as you sail along sitting outside the boat (though you don’t hear the commentary then) or sit by a window and enjoy some shade. It’s also the perfect shelter from the showers that can catch you out. Take a full round trip if you can and you will see many more famous landmarks such as the Old Parliament House, the Asians Civilisation Museum and Marina Barrage. Not to mention you get a full view of the CBD and the gob-smackingly tall skyscrapers. You can hop on and off if you wish or can choose to end your journey at any one of it’s 13 jetties.

city scape

Just a few of the skyscrapers you’ll see

 

Personally, I’d say go for a round trip and see as much as you can and end up back at Clifford Pier. This is purely because that way you can now gawp at, for me, one of the most splendid hotels in the area – The Fullerton Bay Hotel. I’m not sure of the technicalities, but the hotel is built on a public walkway (I’m also not sure they’ll appreciate my sharing this information so happily either). This basically means anyone – yes, even you in your comfy shorts and walking shoes – can stroll through the public areas. And these are public areas TO DIE FOR!

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The stunning Clifford Pier restaurant

I never tire of staring when I enter the lobby. The beautiful – and I mean stunningly beautiful – Clifford Pier restaurant just whisks you away to a place where you want to call everybody ‘dahhhling’ and quaff cocktails and sip Ceylon tea all afternoon. In fact, you can do exactly that as this one of the best places for afternoon tea (see Time For Tea, Fullerton Bay Hotel).

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A bar with a view to die for

 

Of course, if it’s later in the evening; ah hell, even if it’s not, you can head up to The Lantern Bar. Taking it’s name from Clifford Pier’s historical Chinese name ‘Red Lantern Pier’ this is one of my favourite spots for a drink or two as the views are lovely. Not so high up you feel sick, but high enough to take your breath away. There’s a relaxed vibe most nights with a DJ playing some nights – it can get busy so book if you’re keen to go on a particular night.

But, during the day it’s also great for a juice, cup of tea or cocktail too and you can get bar snacks if you haven’t partaken in any of the restaurants earlier. Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

When you’re done – and had a good nose around the beautiful lobby – you can head to the hotel entrance and grab a cab back home. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, walk back along the river the way you came and jump back on the MRT. By the time you get there though you’ll be ready for another drink and some cake before heading home – look out for the cafe’s outside the shopping mall as they can tick the box no problem

For me, this is the perfect day out for newbies – and oldies – to Singapore. A great introduction to the city without being overwhelmed and a good way to check out what you might like to do next.

Enjoy!

Four Seasons

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The Four Seasons hotel is a luxury five-star hotel and home to the One-Ninety Bar which claims to offer “afternoon tea with a twist.” What’s the twist we wondered?

As we all gathered in the dimly lit bar ‘by’ Javier de las Muelas it felt as if we were there too early. Perhaps the creative partnership of Muelas serves its purpose well with martini’s flowing in the evening and a no doubt stylish crowd mingling amongst the spacious bar and outdoor area (they call this the Terraza). But, during the day it felt dark, heavy and too sombre.  This is possibly a bar best seen at night.

But there we were and afternoon tea is what we were after. The waitress gave us the menu and there was an impressive selection of teas to choose from. If you like fancy tea that is. For those of us who wanted a bog standard English Breakfast tea, or even an Earl Grey it seemed we were scuppered. Perhaps we should have opted for one of the amazing concoctions on offer; they certainly sounded delightful.

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We all agreed these teas sounded lovely, but were not what we wanted with our sandwiches and cakes.

But, following a small panic by my mum – who was visiting from the UK and would win any award for tea drinking there is – we managed to get a pot of perfectly acceptable English Breakfast tea. She was happy. The rest of the tea drinkers were fairly conservative in their choices too with Earl Grey being the most adventurous. The coffee drinkers were well catered for too with latte’s, cappuccino’s and flat whites readily available.

The traditional three-tiered stand was soon to arrive, carrying what looked like a delectable section of finger sandwiches, pastries and scones (oh or o, I don’t care!) There were salmon, cheese, ham and egg sandwiches to choose from. Nothing amazing in the fillings and not really what you’d expect from a five-star hotel but they tasted fine so no complaints.

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The tiered stand looked very pretty with its glass cups of strawberry mousse perched on top and macaroons nestled next to tiny little chocolate and raspberry bites, as well as some quirky champagne flute shaped cookies. There were also some rather large cupcakes brimming with fondant.

Of course the obligatory – in our opinion – scones were there with small dishes of clotted cream and jam to accompany them. It all looked pretty good.

But, and it’s a but that needs to be butted.

It all looked lovely. But tasted – meh!

Nothing blew any of us away. The macaroons were ok; they had a nice pistachio taste but were no deal breaker. The mousse was pretty bland, the chocolate and raspberry bites IMG_2347had those awful silver balls on top that you find on kids cakes that can break your teeth. The cupcakes were all show really. Even the champagne flute cookies weren’t particularly tasty. In fact, the icing on top also smacked of a children’s party. Again, not what you’d expect from a five-star hotel. The scones were ok, not too dry and had some fruit inside, but nowhere near enough jam or cream is provided. In fact, had we not all been such a polite bunch, a fight could have broken out over who had too much cream.

According to the website there is a show pantry “with a variety of exquisite pastries.” We weren’t told about or shown this and certainly didn’t get offered anything from anywhere else. We were also not offered more than one pot of tea, which is poor. Although had we asked, I’m sure they would have accommodated. Unfortunately the staff weren’t that easy to find so top ups were not really an option.

Some of our group opted for the additional $20 for a cocktail, and for $30 you can go for a glass of champagne with your afternoon tea. The standard afternoon tea was $42 – this seems a fair price for the quantity of food and is pretty average for Singapore.

Overall, the company made the afternoon worthwhile. Everyone felt they had got their money worth and although disappointed with the flavour of the food that day, the look of it was lovely. But, the afternoon tea was just a sideline really; never the star of the show, which is a shame.

This is definitely a bar best seen at night. Oh, and the twist? No idea! *

What, when, where, how much?

Classic Afternoon Tea
Daily, 2-5pm.
One-Ninety Bar and Terrazzo by Javier De Las Muelas *
The Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Tel: +65 6734 1110

http://www.fourseasons.com/singapore/dining/bar/one-ninety_bar_and_terraza_by_javier_de_las_muelas/

$42++ per person. More for cocktails and champagne.

Overall score from The Handbags and Teabags Ladies:

imagesimagesimages (out of 10)

* Maybe the twist is the ridiculously long name?

Help!

As is the way with some of my posts since being an expat in Singapore, this is one that I’ve been avoiding for a while. Although not as long as I’ve been avoiding the ‘Organic Box Story’ – but I’ll get there. Give me a break folks, it’s been tough few months.

This is also one that those outside of the expat world are going to drop their cups of tea and scoff loudly at. Ney, they will LAUGH OUT LOUD whilst wriggling uncomfortably in their seats. In fact, I could probably lose a few friends over this. But hey, I’m all for baring my soul 2c25968288f36ecaedaa9653d6cf9bde_largeat the moment so here goes. By the way, I am now officially taking cover for a few days whilst the “who the hell does she think she is” and “oooh, get her with her ‘domestic helper’ getting all up herself (that’s an Essex term for thinking you’re rather posh when you’re clearly not!)” and other such comments, go away. 

Domestic help. Do you? Don’t you? How? What? When? Why? And WTF?

I’m not going to tell you the best way to decide if you need live-in help or not. I’m not going to advise on the legalities, paperwork or do’s and don’t of a contract if you have one (that’s what agencies are for – or the MOM). I’m not even going to tell you what to ask when choosing a helper. All of this might be skimmed over, but I’m not taking the slack for your poor decisions or indecisiveness – that’s all you.
Twain-quote

Let’s start with some honesty right off. One of the BEST things about living in Singapore is that lots and lots and lots and lots (and more!) of normal people, like you and me – who are not the Queen or even related in any way – have live-in helpers. Outside of Singapore people call them maids. We don’t. We call them helpers. Now you know. It’s perfectly acceptable to have someone who lives in your house – yes, with you and the family –  and does all the housework you want her to. I know!

That’s not to say everyone has a helper. I know some very nice, sane people who don’t. (Actually they’re not that sane but they are nice) Some just have a cleaner who comes round once a week or whatever. I even know of some people who do it all themselves! These people are much more on the ball than me. Possibly more house proud. Definitely not as ‘unkept’ in the chore department. Each to their own I say. The choice is there.

Getting your head around having a live-in helper is hard for a girl from a small village in Essex. With a working class background and a strong moral grounding in trade unions, the labour party and that strange idea you get growing up in a ‘normal working class’ town that you should never, in any circumstances, show that you’re doing well for yourself, is a hard nut to crack. Is this a British thing I wonder. I can hear my idol Billy Bragg strumming his guitar in disgust as I write. Sorry Bill I’ve sold out to the big scary corporate guys…

Sorry, I’m digressing into a whole other post here aren’t I?

Basically it’s a weird idea to get used to someone else doing all the crap for you.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you need to decide, what, if any help you want to get. Some of the questions you might ask yourself are:

“Could I really have a stranger living in my house?” dc8pBKBce
“Will I end up cleaning up before or/and afterwards?”
“How will I know what to ask her to do?”
“Will she run off with all my jewels and maybe even my husband?”
“Do I really want a stranger washing my dirty knickers?”
“What will I do whilst she is cleaning?”
“How much will it really cost me?”
“What if I want some private time with the other half!”
“What will my friends back at home think of having a ‘maid'”

All of these questions and more will run through your head.
For me I answered them like so:

“Nope, can’t imagine it. I love my privacy too much.” I don’t even like someone turning up at my door without at least half an hours notice.
“Err. no. But then I’m not a clean freak. I am that person that only cleans the bathroom when it needs it.”
“You won’t really. But there are people who will tell you what they did. Start with a list of jobs you’d like done daily and go from there.”
“If you’re lucky you’ll keep the jewels” I’m kidding, I’m kidding! This is a tricky one as you do hear some horror stories about things going missing and so on. We just got a safe and put things we had an attachment to in there. Not because we think our lovely lady will steal anything, but it takes away any worry for all of us.
“No, but I also can’t be bothered to wash the amount of clothes my husband and kids seem to wear” So, it’s the lesser of two evils. You soon get over your queasiness on this after your first monthly visit (ahem, sorry, if that’s too much information).
“Pay a fair wage, end of discussion” Do not ask ‘should I pay them to work their day off, do they have to have every Sunday off, do I pay them to go home’ and so on. Do the decent thing. Treat your helper well. Be sensible. End of.
“Haaaaaaa! Really?” Well I guess as she’s there taking care of everything, book a hotel?
“They will think you’re up yourself. But that’s ok because you’re also up yourself without having to clean the toilet after hubby’s night out in Arab Street.”

I know, I’m making this all very light-hearted and it’s not. It takes some getting used to in all honesty. Having another woman in your house, doing the things you are used to doing. Taking away some of the ‘jobs’ that – whilst you may not have liked doing them, at least they were ‘yours’. You will have mixed feelings about it.

housework-or-fire_largeYou will be grateful beyond belief on the bad days when the kids have been a handful, the cars broken down and you’ve got lost finding your way back from the garage and you walk in to a nice clean house and the dinner cooking.
You will smugly smile to yourself when a new friend asks if you’re free for lunch and you can go on short notice as you know you haven’t got to get that pile of school clothes sorted for tomorrow.
You will laugh and thank your lovely helper when she finds that pair of bloody glasses you ‘put down somewhere’ just now.
You will breathe a huge sigh of relief when you have to rush to the doctors with one child and can leave the other safely tucked up in bed under her watchful eye.
And you’ll be pleased you can go out for ‘date night’ (hate that term with a vengeance – it’s not ‘date night’ it’s going out with your husband!) once in a while without having to book a babysitter.

The downsides are there as well of course. You may not always feel you have privacy in your own home. Niggles about the way she does things that don’t tie in with what you would do. Having to manage someone is tricky; you are, after all, their employer. I’m not so good at being the ‘boss’. That’s a weird role. We muddle along though. She tells me to ‘leave that I will do it’ when I start rinsing plates or will bat away any suggestion of helping her with something. That’s ok. We’re comfortable enough to do that.

I still sneak around and do things. Like ironing a new outfit today. I’m not sure I’ll even wear it so it may go back to the shop. I don’t want her to see how much it cost – the old working class guilt there – (it wasn’t that much dad relax) so decided I’d quickly iron it whilst she was out. Also, I have this thing about creases at the side of trousers – can’t be doing with flat edges either side of my legs sorry. So…

Caught red-handed. She came back and found me in the kitchen, with the ironing board, wielding the iron. I apologised profusely of course. Tried to explain that I didn’t know what I’d be wearing so blah, blah, blah! She laughed. She thinks I’m a bit odd I’m sure. She also laughs when I offer to make her a cuppa on my many visits to the kettle.

1336006895833_8696101Would I do without her now? No. Of course not! As much as I’d like to pretend I could do it all, the fact is, I can’t. Actually, it’s that I don’t want to. I won’t. Ask my mum, she thinks I’m from another planet because I don’t think about cleaning the bathroom every day and changing the sheets once a week. So, no I couldn’t do without her. She’s an angel in disguise. She’s part of the family in a very mutually-respectful-not-too-close-way.

There’s whole load of paperwork involved in hiring a helper sure. There are pitfalls you need to be aware of. There are extra expenses you may not realise at first like medical bills and bonuses. You do have to share your home with a stranger. But, really, the thing that swung it for me when we were deciding – was, why not? When and where else would we get the chance to have someone help take care of things?

It’s tough choosing whether to go for it or not. It can be tough choosing a helper – go with your gut every time.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

Aside

Err… Yes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X marked the spot

Branded!

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

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Dangerously innocent looking

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

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Lychee martini’s – yum!

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

You just have to know where and when.

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

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

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

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

Regretted them the next day though…

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

See, this saying yes thing is working for me.

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