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Archive for January, 2012

“Can I go home today?” “When can I go home?” “I’d like to go home.” “I want to go home.”

Hey, is this RPA I’m watching, or a remake of The Wizard of Oz?

All right, there is no place like home, but I am amazed that this is the most popular question from patients at the Royal Prince Alfred – even for those who have limbs stitched back, livers replaced, and hearts mended.

My question is always “How long can I stay?”

For women in particular, home is a place of work, not retreat, and the idea of recovering from major surgery and still having to do the shopping, cooking, washing and (occasional) ironing, is terrifying.

I admit, hospital is uncomfortable. The rubber mattress means that you slip and slide all over the bed. If you tilt the head of the bed up you find your feet jammed against the end.

The bedside tables are too narrow and always seem to be behind you and out of reach. And the tray table is ridiculously small, so that when your food tray arrives, you have to remove your water jug, your book, your mobile and your makeup bag.

But – in hospital you are not within sight of any overflowing washing baskets, dirty dishes,  crisis-ridden teenagers, or anxious husbands.

You may complain about the nurses, who seldom have time to make you comfortable or offer any kind  words, but do still manage to tell you their life story. (I must have had my listening face on).

But hey, it’s their job to make sure your vital signs are still ticking over, whereas at home, it’s your job to make sure everyone else’s vital signs are ticking over.

And in hospital, you get your meals cooked for you. I realise this may be an overstatement. There will never be a recipe book entitled Best Ever Hospital Food. But you didn’t have to shop for it, prepare for it, cook it, clean up and then throw away the left-overs.

Hospital food is also portion controlled, and you never feel like second helpings, so it’s a great opportunity to kick start your weight-loss program.

In most private hospitals, you can also order a small bottle of wine to wash it down with. That, along with the pain killers and antibiotics means you may not remember what you ate, let alone what it tasted like.

And in most private hospitals, you get your own bathroom, which means you don’t have to sluice down the basin to get rid of the beard stubble before you clean your teeth, and that someone else replaces the toilet rolls.

And most importantly, you have sole charge of the remote control.

In fact, remote controls are one of the biggest advances in hospitals that I have noted over the years. When I was having operations in the 80s, you had to use an IV pole to change the channels.

Now, with your nifty personal remote, you can watch any girly crap you like without being derided. Hence, why I am watching RPA instead of Al Jazeera  News. I’m in the mood to emphasise.

In fact, hospital reminds me a lot of being on the plane to Singapore, except there they don’t take your blood pressure. And unlike Aussie nurses, Singapore girls don’t have to take your catheter out.

So, although my stay in hospital was only three nights, and I am now writing this from bedquarters at home, I can honestly say that while I sometimes felt sick, I never once felt homesick.

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Here’s a weight loss tip: have some organs removed.

I did, and hey presto, I’m now two kilograms lighter – despite having a bloated stomach and looking three months’ pregnant.

Yes, the LAVH (Laparoscopic  Assisted Vaginal Hysterectomy) is the way to go if you need to get rid of your girly bits.

And the really good thing about it is that there is lots of post-op support, not only from kind and caring friends, but from people on the internet who have been through the same experience.

People like Adrian.

That’s what I found when I looked up “hysterectomy post-op” on YouTube. “Adrian talks about his experience having a hysterectomy and his healing process one day post-op,” the tag stated.

Adrian? Surely they meant Adrianna?

No, it isn’t my bleary anesthetic-affected eyes. Adrian is indeed a young man of about 18 or 20, slim and in rude health, despite going under the knife the day before. He even lifts his t-shirt to show the four neat nicks on his flat white belly.

Like most blokes, he didn’t even bother staying overnight in the hospital. If your Mom is doing the cooking and housework, and your body hasn’t been dragged through the ravages of childbirth and age, it seems recovery is a lot easier.

At least that’s what Aaron and Kade – who are also post-op  – suggest.

And Gabe, who has a button earring, a lip ring and a beard,  and who happily shows his belly, also flat and white which sports star tattoos either side and the word “Daddy” in the middle, just above his pubic bone.

It seems that describing your “hyster” on YouTube is the latest thing for FTMs (female to males) the world over.

For the uninitiated, FTMs are females who are transitioning to male with the help of synthetic testosterone.

Why are there so few videos from overweight middle-aged women like me, I wonder?

Probably because they are too busy trying to do the washing and cooking and getting back to work while trying to hang on to their aching stomachs.

I search and find a few, mostly from women describing their years of pain and flooding from the fibroids and acute endometriosis  that preceded the hysterectomy, and the trauma of surgical menopause afterwards.

Hell, like everything else in this world, a hysterectomy seems a lot easier for guys.

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Our parallel lives

I had hoped that this would be auspicious – a favourite word of Asian people, especially the Chinese. Our new apartment in Singapore is no.13, and is a short walk to the Botanic Gardens and a bit of longer walk to the city centre.

Our old apartment in Melbourne is no.14, and is a short walk to the Botanic Gardens, and a bit of a longer walk to the city centre, which means although we will be moving countries, we will have a strangely parallel life.

Not only that, we first viewed the Singapore apartment on Friday 13th.

But I soon learn that the opposite is true. In Chinese culture, numbers that add up to four – the death number – are very inauspicious. So much so that in some buildings there is no 13th floor and all the floor numbers that end in four are omitted.

Whoops, too late now. We have signed, sealed and delivered.

Perhaps the fact that it is the Year of the Dragon, and Rob is a Dragon – very auspicious – will counter the bad luck that comes from being no.13.

Or perhaps the fact that it is floor 01 and apartment 13 – written as 01-13, which adds up to five, will be auspicious because well, five is lucky because … whatever.

All I know is that we are just lucky to have found a place that suits our budget, is light and airy and in a great location.

And a little unlucky to have a construction site at the back door.

But in Singapore even if you have no construction when you sign your lease, there is no guarantee that you won’t have some later.

That’s what happened to our new friends, who have been living in Singapore for the past 18 months. One minute they lived in paradise, the next the owner decided to replace paradise with a house for her daughter.

Still,  there are worse problems. “Construction ends, but the noise of a main road goes on forever,” our real estate advocate, Diana, had warned.

So does the noise from schools, which is what put me off the apartment closer to town.

Blood-curdling screams and shouts floated up from the nearby school and the presence of scooters and tiny runners outside the doors on either side of the apartment that we were considering suggested that blood-curdling screams might float from the neighbouring apartments too.

Don’t get me wrong. Kids are great. But having just finished raising my own, I need a break.

And construction is way better than mould. In Singapore’s humid climate you can go on holiday and return to find that mould has taken over your house.

So now we have a new apartment and new friends – even if we have seen both of them only once.

That’s how it is when you move countries. It is not uncommon for departing expats to hand over their friends to newcomers, which is what how we came to be introduced.

Our new friends offered to  meet in the Botanic gardens for breakfast and to talk about their experiences apartment-hunting and living in Singapore generally.

Very auspicious, especially as we were considering the apartment nearby.

It was their  warmth and kindness and the sanctuary of the gardens that convinced us to take the apartment, despite the construction.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens are just like the Botanic Gardens at home – beautiful –  except hotter and damper and with more water features. And just like at the gardens at home, there were people jogging, walking dogs and drinking coffee, as well as a huddle of photographers with their cameras trained reverently on a patch of vegetation.

“What are they photographing?” we asked.

“Migratory birds,” someone replied.

Just like us.

Back in Richmond the following day for my surgery, it was like stepping into a dusty gritty street after being in an air-conditioned shopping mall. The difference between a movie set and reality.

Can’t wait to get back to the movie.

Post Script: We may not be out of luck after all! Our good friend Bevan, who dabbles in numerology, provides the following analysis, published below with his permission. I profess to following neither religion nor superstition, but I admit that I find Bevan’s response strangely comforting.

Hello Jane,

Thanks for the link to the blogs – apartment hunting fun! and taxi driver rant  – the history of Singapore and Mr Lew etc. would be interesting. 

Apparently 4 looks in Chinese like the character death, or something like that, so their suspicions overload. But you are not Chinese – in Western numerology all numbers have their positive and negative, and their “place”.  4 is about system and order – the 4 corners etc., is about the material reality, fitting into and benefitting from the system.  4 is the organiser personality, is about discipline and team-work, rather than say 1 which is about leadership, and also can be obstinate, about doing it your own way – (does not auger necessarily well for entering an established business, rather than establish your own, or go your own way).  4 can also have its rebellious side, although the rebellion is still usually within the system, seeking its better application or organisation.  2 is about sensitivity, seeing 2 sides, and can be indecisive, 3 is the entertainer, life of the party, loves to share and communicate, with a song, or 2, or 3 –  but must be careful to not miss the boat or the message, etc. and so on for each number.

No.13 on floor 1, is good because it can be seen fully as the address, adding up to the number 5 – the adventurer, the door opener, the explorer.  So can you always make sure you represent the address as 13, floor 1 or vice-versa?  All numbers are from 1 to 9 before they commence again with 10 and so on, when the cycle begins again.  So 5 is the middle number that straddles 1 to 4 and 6 to 9 – balancing the material day-to-day work and necessaries of life from 1 up to 4 and the higher dreams, pursuits, spirit of who we are, from 6 to 9.  But here the 4 is represented by 1 and 3 – 1 for leadership and 3 for the entertainer, i.e. 3’s a crowd. So both 4 and 5 have their benefits and much to look forward to and also as long as you, to quote Bing Crosby, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Abundant health to you and happy travels.  Look forward to seeing you when you can.    

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New Life Journal 2

Be it ever so humble – or homogeneous…

Being a potential resident, rather than a tourist, really changes the way you look at a place. Instead of looking at landmarks and scenery in Singapore, we are looking at cutlery, crockery and of course apartments.

“You will be spoiled for choice,” Diana, our real estate advocate, tells us, and we are.

Depending on your budget, there are hundreds of apartments available, many with their own lap pool, children’s pool, Jacuzzi, sun deck, barbecue pit and gym, to make up for the fact that after a while, it’s like a little bit like Lego.

No matter what they build, it all starts to look the same: tiny and shiny. Marble floors and bathroom vanities abound, with bedrooms that can fit a king-sized bed, if that’s all you want to put in it.

The more recent developments also come with bomb shelters. “After 9/11, the Singapore Government made a rule that every new development should have a bomb shelter,” one agent says with an embarrassed giggle.

“I think Singapore is very safe,” she says reassuringly, “But it is good for storage,” she says, opening the door of what looks like a large cool store.

“I can’t decide,” I tell Diana. They all have their pros and cons.  Some have good kitchens but small living spaces. Some have good living spaces, but no balcony. Others have a good balcony but overlooking a main road. Open the door and it’s like turning the volume up full blast on the TV. Shutting the door is like putting the TV on mute, thanks to double glazing.

The real deciding factor, as in any home, will be location. Our last expat experience was in the suburbs of Bangkok, so this time we want to be near the action.

The property websites, like all websites, are a mixture of truth and lies. They list details such as when the property was developed and the name of the developer, the size and the amenities accurately.

They also say things like “minutes to Somerset MRT” but when you look at the map, it is 20 minutes walking in 30 degree heat with 80 per cent humidity.

Admittedly, Singapore is a small place, and it doesn’t take much to hail a taxi to the nearest MRT or shopping mall, but with two monsoon seasons  taxis can be in high demand, so being close to an MRT station is an advantage.

Some shopping centres have shuttle buses to the main MRT stations, but these run at retail hours, starting at 11am, which is no good to Rob.

We consider an apartment near Rob’s work in Marina Bay but reconsider when we read reviews that complain of the noise of constant construction and views that are blocked by the new developments that seem to be popping up everywhere.

Walking around the area, reminds me of Docklands in Melbourne, a community that is created  rather than one that has evolved naturally, and which therefore has a strange feeling of absence.

All the places we look have one thing in common – a sort of homogeneous beauty in the grounds and common areas, much like Singapore itself.

Take a taxi from the airport to the city in Melbourne and you will be uninspired, perhaps even disappointed.

The vast expanses of road, the few shrubs and gum trees, warehouses and factories leading into housing developments and eventually the city itself, offer no hint of the beautiful boulevards and gardens that are a feature of the city.

By comparison, take a taxi from Changi airport and you will be impressed with lush green vegetation and hot pink bougainvillea that is everywhere, including on the pedestrian overpasses. “They have window boxes on the overpasses,” I exclaim. Although I have been to Singapore before, I am still impressed.

Unlike Melbourne, with its relentless graffiti tagging that blotches any wall or building that dares to remain bare – especially noticeable along back fences when you take a train ride to the suburbs – there is no unrelieved ugliness in Singapore.

“It feels like a model village,” I tell Rob. I half expect a giant hand to pluck me from the model and plonk me back in Richmond, where the bases of the trees are also planted with broken beer bottles from MCG revelers, and if you smile too much you will have to floss the grit out of your teeth later.

While Singapore has defined cultural areas, such as Chinatown and Little India, they appears to be  none of the Indy culture that is Melbourne’s signature, exemplified by places such as Brunswick St, Fitzroy, Smith St, and in Yarraville and Northcote.

It is this homogenization that makes living in Singapore so easy for expats. I catch a taxi to Great World City to do a reconnaissance tour, as we are considering an apartment at the Cosmopolitan. After climbing the Everest of stairs at the overpass, I find myself in Starbucks.

Having been stung $6 for a coffee large enough to swim in at the Coffee Bean the other day, I take the down escalator looking for a local coffee stand, but find that I am in Knox City in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, instead. At least that’s what it feels like.

They say that you don’t truly live in a place until you stop comparing it with your previous home, but at Great World City, you don’t have to, as the coffee stand I choose is opposite the vitamin shops, GNC Live Well and Natures’ Farm, and just across from the coffee stand is a Hush Puppies store.

To top it off, I am facing a column that features a wall with an ad for Mr Minit, complete with the same cheerful logo I see at home.

There are also the same stores, such as Zara and British India, that are at the Ion Centre and Wheelock Place and everywhere else I have been in the past few days.

I am moving countries but the culture of consumerism remains the same.

I talk the Great World City shuttle bus to Chinatown and am relieved to see some dirt and grit at the People’s Park food court, where despite the fact that there are hundreds of stalls selling similar food, one alone boasts a queue of people that snakes through the centre of the food court.

“What are you queuing for?” I ask one woman. “Soup,” she replies. “Very good.”

It reminds me of something Diana, our real estate advocate, said: that Singapore was like one of its famous soups: a harmonious mixture of cultures.

I guess that’s why I find the soup stand reassuring: it seems it is possible to stand out despite the relentless homogeneity.

I return to Orchard Rd via the MRT and buy cutlery at the Japanese department store, Isitan, heavily discounted thanks to the Chinese New Year sales.

So far, we have knives and forks but still no home, despite a Saturday deadline.

I hope today will be the day I find an apartment that is like the popular soup at People’s Park: very good.

*Sorry that there are pictures yet.  I forgot to bring my camera lead so I can download. 

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Day 6. Still fat.

This year, my New Year’s Resolution was to smile more and eat less. The idea was that the less I ate, and the more weight I lost, the more reason I would have to smile. The idea came after I caught sight of a fat, scowling woman travelling on the up escalator at Myer in Melbourne.

Wouldn’t like to meet her in a dark alley, I thought – then turned away from the mirror wall opposite and realised it was me.

So far, I’m looking scarier and fatter than ever. “What are you grinning for?” my husband asks. “I’ve resolved to smile more,” I reply.

“Don’t do that outside the house,” he advises.

But it’s difficult to smile when you no longer eat cakes, biscuits or drink alcohol regularly and you buy low-fat, low-sugar groceries, as well as lots of fruit and vegetables, and you’re STILL fat. I realise that it is only day 6 of this year, so I shouldn’t expect too much. But I’ve been doing this since last New Year’s.

The idea is to slim down so that I can cope better with the Singapore heat.

I look at my size 6 daughter (aged nearly 19) and sigh. “I looked like you once,” I say wistfully. (Except I was size 12). She looks aghast and immediately goes for a run.

I am not alone. Diet advice abounds at this time of year. You can settle back with a diet coke and a muffin and really get inspired.

There are the usual fad diets, along with the usual warnings about fad diets. Common sense tells me that it’s just an in-out equation, but I have never been very good at maths.

Therefore, my new New Year’s Resolution is to read more diet books and buy more clothes, because looking at myself in those dressing-room mirrors makes me want to throw up – and that’s not a bad start to slimming.

Meanwhile, here’s something that proves that for centuries, there seems to have been fat chance of a slim future for fad dieters.

http://www.neatorama.com/2009/03/30/10-craziest-diets-in-history/

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2012 is going to be a big year for me. I am leaving the country, and my children.

The reason? My husband has a new job in Singapore and we are moving there.

I have been an active participant in this decision. I was excited and proud when he got the job and looking forward to another adventure together. After all, hadn’t we cut our expat teeth in Bangkok? Singapore, where everyone speaks English and it is illegal to litter and to chew gum, would be balm after the chaos of Bangkok.

So why have I spent the past few months feeling as if I am being deported?

Perhaps it is because it’s all happened so fast. One minute I was complaining about being overworked and underpaid – holed up in my office for three months at a time with my computer, a bottle of vitamin D tablets and an aging Chihuahua – and the next I was the proud holder of a Dependant Spouse Visa and a new suitcase.

Perhaps it was also because it felt like an ending rather than a beginning. 2011 was also a big year. My mother died, my daughter left school and went to university, and I spent the final months closing my business, my home and my life in Melbourne.

Perhaps it’s also because this move has coincided with the need for a hysterectomy. “That’s what happened to me,” my friend Marg said when I told her. “Just as my kids left home, I had my womb ripped out.”

But in my case, my kids are staying and I am leaving.

Perhaps this is why I can’t stop crying – even when my daughter calls me a “nong” again for not being able to work out the remote control – again. “I’ll miss being nonged,” I weep, to which she replies, “You nong!”

“I feel like a guillotine has come down on my life,” I tell my husband.  I find myself empathising with convict girls   – torn from their families and shipped to a foreign land against their will.

Walking through the Fitzroy Gardens and seeing rainbow lorikeets squabbling for pollen and nectar makes my dewy-eyed, as does Melbourne’s changeable weather. “I’ll really miss this,” I say, as I grab a coat, an umbrella and my sunscreen before leaving the house.

Even watching groups of young men swaying down the narrow streets of Richmond, stubbies in hand, as they make their way back from the MCG,  makes me go “AWWW!” instead of “ARGGGHHHH!”

But then, like all good journalists, I begin to do some research, starting with the Lonely Planet Guide Singapore Encounter.  We are going to live somewhere near Orchard Rd, so I flick to page 38, which begins, “A veritable canyon of concrete, glass and steel, Orchard Road is a monument to the Singaporean obsession with shopping , though it’s really a chicken-and-egg proposition: did the obsession spawn the malls, or did the malls spawn the obsession?

“Either way, Singaporeans love these monoliths, spending vast amounts of leisure time bathing in icy air-conditioning, shopping, eating, drinking and movie-going.”

Hang on. This is what I like doing. In fact, shopping, eating, drinking and movie-going are my next favourite activities after writing. Maybe Singapore won’t be so bad after all? I start to salivate instead of commiserate.

While I can work later if I want, there’s no hurry, my husband explains. I can spend my days writing (or shopping or eating or drinking or movie-going) and finally have some time to get fit by taking advantage of the pool and gym that are standard features of every apartment.

Gulp. Now there will be no excuses. 2012 will be the year I metamorphosise from fat journalist to skinny author. I will have a new life.

This is ironic since it was almost 19 years ago that the then-editor of the Melbourne Age, Alan Kohler, asked me to write a column about my daughter’s first year of life.

I was eight months pregnant at the time and editing the Accent section of The Age. The column, called A New Life Journal, was so popular that it was extended another year as Family Postcard.

I stopped writing the columns four years later, when it was no longer possible to write about my children without them objecting.

This is why I’ve decided to call this new blog A New Life Journal 2. I plan to write about my new life in Singapore and what it feels like to leave the nest yourself, instead of waiting for your children to leave it.

Until now, I’ve been teetering on the edge, staring fearfully below without daring to flap my wings. A new life in Singapore may be just the nudge I need.

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