Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

Around 3pm, I start to get edgy. I should be getting home.

Even though I know there is no reason to get home, I feel edgy.

I blame 27 years of mothering.

As a mother, you need to start getting home around 3pm to make sure you are there when the kids get home from school, or to pick them up and take them to the dentist, or to a singing lesson, or a piano lesson, or rehearsal, or to a play-date.

But now the kids have grown up and at 3pm they are probably at work, or at uni, or still in bed recovering from that 3am party and hangover.

I have been absolved, yet still, like a well-trained rat, I keep returning to that damned wheel.

At 5pm I start to feel like I should be making dinner – even when I know Rob is not going to be home until 8pm and we will probably have dinner in town.

At the supermarket, I feel the need to buy several hundred dollars worth of groceries, including biscuits and treats for lunch boxes, even though I know there is no lunch box and that if I buy any treats, the only person I will be treating is myself.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I’m not cutting lunches anymore, or doing the after-school run.

I’m glad my kids have grown up and are enjoying their lives.

I just wish I could de-program myself and enjoy mine.

That’s why I decide that the best antidote to being an auto-mum is to go touristing, starting at 3pm in Little India

Touristing alone is a guilty pleasure. There are no compromises.

You don’t have to reach consensus on where and when to go, or where and when to eat; and there is no one to tell you not to buy that gorgeous piece of jewelry as a Mother’s Day present to yourself.

You can do what you bloody-well like. Finally.  (Just don’t tell Rob about the jewelry).  

On this particular day, doing what I liked meant eating my way from Buffalo St to Mustafa and back.

For the uninitiated, Mustafa is a huge 24-hour department store which has everything you Mustafa and more.

It was here in Little India that I discovered that I am probably a reincarnation of a northern Indian. Why else would I love Punjabi suits, jewelry and samosas so much?

“That’s so sweet,” my Indian friend Sultana says when I tell her that I bought a Punjabi suit (for 35!). “You could pass for Northern Indian,” she adds.

But it’s not just their beauty that has endeared me to Punjabi suits. Punjabi suits not only cover a multitude of sins, they turn them into virtues.

You can eat as many samosas as you like, and still fit into a Punjabi suit (albeit extra large), as even the most generous of figures look slender and elegant in the long-line tunic, light billowy pants, and matching scarf.

And like saris, Punjabi suits come in the most decadent colors and patterns.

This is a nice change, as in Melbourne the preferred color for most women’s apparel is black –  not because they are widows but because, like most Western women, we Melbournians are always trying to diminish ourselves. 

Indian women, it seems, feel no such compulsion. They think nothing of going food shopping wearing a Punjabi suit that is encrusted with fake diamonds or trailing metres of hot pink silk draped elegantly around their neck, and which wafts gently behind them as they walk.

How do they do it? I tried it and the scarf got caught in my crotch and strangled me. I nearly choked on my samosa.

 In Australia, summer means wearing fewer clothes, not more; so the idea of a tunic, pants and a scarf in 32 degree heat, may seem incongruous. But Punjabi suits are amazingly cool as they don’t cling like t-shirts and jeans.

However, so far I am not game to wear mine anywhere other than Little India, at a Bollywood party, or around the house – not just because I haven’t mastered the art of the scarf yet, but because I feel like I am wearing a costume rather than clothes.

I guess that’s why my Punjabi suit is pale green and cream.

It’s discreet.

And it goes fabulously with that new piece of jewelry. 





My aspiration!

My reality! (Although this is not me. It’s from Google images, and I apologise to whomever it is).


Check this website to see more of what I aspire to!


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The largely Indian audience was rocking with laughter, as Kanjooswamy, “a diehard skinflint”, ranted about how his children, the government and the world were out to rob him of his hard-earned wealth.

Rob and I exchanged little half smiles as the jokes about local Indian culture, the Singapore establishment and inter-racial marriage flew around us.

This is what it’s like to be an immigrant, I thought. You just don’t get the jokes – or at least not yet.

The play was The Kanjoos, which means “the miser”, and was an Indian take on the Moliere play The Miser, performed by HuM Theatre at the Singapore Repertory Theatre last Saturday night.

Subin Subaiah was perfect as the conniving and crafty kanjoos, as was Daisy Irani, as Jayalolita, “Singapore’s premiere matchmaker”.

With their over-the-top antics and slapstick comedy, it was easy to see what was going on. It was just those little moments when they delivered a subtle one-liner and the audience erupted while Rob and I sat mutely, that made me realise that while shopping is culturally transferable, humour is not.

Ironically, as Daisy Irani and producer, Sakina Dhilawala, said in the program notes, HuM is keen to explore integration issues through its plays.

The Kanjoos could quite easily have been a play enacted by homogenous cast but we deliberately decided otherwise. That is because we wanted to re-inforce the socially appealing idea of inter-racial romance and to emphasise that prejudice is often not religious or racial but economic in nature,” they wrote.

HuM’s two previous productions also explored the integration challenges facing society.

However, I’m not sure that any of these plays included the integration challenges facing expats.

This was no fault of The Kanjoos, which was perfectly pitched and delivered with some Indian spice, giving contemporary and local relevance to the age-old moral that greed is not good.

I don’t expect local culture to accommodate visitors like us, who historically have imposed our culture on Singapore and the rest of the world with blatant disregard for local sensibilities.

It just makes me more aware of what it must be like for immigrants generally, and perhaps more understanding of the City of Whittlesea’s request back in 2004 that a local theatre company my daughter was involved with drop its production of The Sound of Music for something more cultural relevant, considering that 36 per cent of Whittlesea’s population came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

At the time, we music theatre junkies scoffed mightily at this suggestion.

The Sound of Music has always been one of my favourite things, but now I understand how for immigrants, understanding local cultural and humor is yet another one of the many mountains they have to learn to climb in order to feel at home.


The Kanjoos, cast photo from the program. Photography by Wong Xin Yi, Alistair Chew and Sujoy Sen.

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Here in Singapore, if you see any rubbish around in a public place, you can just call the litter hotline and the authorities will come and remove it, according to a report in The Straits Times.(31 March 2012)

So far, I haven’t seen any litter in public places in Singapore, but I plan to put this number in my phone and call it next time I am in Richmond after a big match at the MCG.

I hope that this particular type of cultural  homogeneity will extend to Victoria, and that Yarra Council will follow in the foot steps of Singapore’s newly created Department of Public Cleanliness (DPC).

In Singapore, the DPC will work closely with town councils to take charge of cleaning in public areas, The Straits Times says.The DPC will also use technology, including remote monitoring of litter bins.

“A tag will be placed in all the NEA (National Environment Agency) litter bins, allowing officers to keep count of all  emptied bins with a quick scan.

“Web-based cameras will also be installed for real-time tracking of the ground situation and contractors’ performance,” the report says.

Back in Richmond, they still do it the old-fashioned way – employing a team of mostly African men to walk around with spikes and rubbish bags on Monday mornings, spiking any paper and picking up the broken glass and empty beer cans.

But no amount of technology can solve the problem of footy revellers who have had too much beer and who can’t make it to the Richmond station toilet on time.

Once when I was walking home from the station, I spied a young man urinating against the wall, his pelvis thrust forward, while his hands were pressed against the wall above his head to hold himself steady.

I had seen this too many times before, so this time  I slipped my hand into my pocket, retrieving my iphone, and quickly pressed the camera icon.

Unfortunately, I forgot to turn off the flash.

“Hey, mate, that woman jush took a pitcha of your bum,” the man’s friend slurred, as the flash lit up two round pale buttocks, a pair of skinny, hairy legs and jeans concertinaed around his ankles.

“Wot?” the young man said, turning around.

“See you on youtube, guys!” I yelled – and made a dash for the front door.

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Same, same – but same

I have a friend who once trekked all the way up a mountain in Nepal. She figured it was worth it, as when she got there she was enthralled with the rich local culture, and brought back some beautiful little brass bowls as souvenirs.

That is until she saw the same bowls in Aldi in Melbourne some years later.

Exactly the same. And made in Nepal, not China.

The queue at the checkout was a lot easier than lugging the heavy brass back down the mountain track, but nowhere near as satisfying.

I know how she feels.

Here in Singapore, I eat cake at Brunetti’s, I buy homewares at Ikea,  I buy electrical goods at Harvey Norman, have my shoes fixed at Mr Minit, get my vitamins from GNC and our clothes at Guess, Esprit and Forever New. At night, we watch the Australia network and listen to the ABC news on the radio.

“I feel like I’ve never left home,” I complain to Rob, as we watch Australian Story. Admittedly, this is a repeat, but then so is my life – or so it feels.

This homogeneity of culture is not unique to Singapore.

When we were in Sydney for Christmas last year, we decided not to bother shopping for clothes, as most of the stores, such as Sportsgirl , Esprit, Myer and David Jones, were exactly the same as those in Melbourne.

Even a charming little Japanese stationery shop here in Singapore was not unique. “Oh, they have one of these in Box Hill,” Greta said as we went past.

This feeling of “same same – but same”, rather than “same, same – but different”, was reinforced when we went to see Wicked at Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre a few weeks ago.

The show wonderful, as was the Wicked we saw in Melbourne a year or so before.

It wasn’t just that the cast was Australian, it was the fact that the two stars, Jemma Rix as Elphaba, and Suzie Mathers, as Glinda, were physical clones of the original Broadway stars Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth respectively: right down to the short-waisted perky blondness of Kristen and the dramatic profile of Idina. The set looked exactly the same, too, and the same merchandise was being sold in the theatre shop with the same logo stamped on everything.

In the old days, it was the star that was promoted, not the brand….Ethel Merman in Gypsy! or Mary Martin in Peter Pan, or Howard Keel in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Now the logo is the star.

I guess this is why I always get lost in the underground malls in Orchard Rd.

“It’s just near the Coffee Club,” I tell Greta when trying to remember the location of a particular shop.

But around every corner, it seems there is another Coffee Club, or Guess, or Prada, or Starbucks, making my directions useless.

But I am grateful that there is a Brunetti’s here. That’s where Greta and I often met for coffee when I lived in Melbourne, and where we are meeting for coffee again next Friday: Greta in Brunetti’s in Carlton and me in Brunetti’s in Singapore. We plan to meet at a set time, order our usual fare, and facetime each other on our iphones.

It makes it easier to say goodbye after our Easter holiday here. I type into my calendar “Coffee with Greta – Brunetti’s” and for once, I feel grateful for my pasteurised and homogenised life.

Next time, we might go to a movie together: me at the Shaw cinema in Orchard Rd and her at Hoyts in Melbourne Central. I see that both are screening, Mirror, Mirror.

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We didn’t get off to a good start, as they hadn’t warned me I would be having a roommate.

There I was airing my not-so-lovely legs, staring at the telly between the parted curtains around my bed, when the curtains began to sway and a middle-aged man and woman squeezed by, stealing glances as they passed.

“Privacy! Privacy!” I yelled, pointing at the curtains, which they shut in hurried confusion.

It wasn’t until later that night when we found ourselves both watching the same program on our respective tellies, that I was able to convince Sandy, my new roommate in Room 827 at Singapore’s Gleneagle Hospital, that I wasn’t mad after all.

Sandy was South African, now living in West Papua with her husband, Dave, and was a frequent visitor to Singapore for shopping, or in this case, surgery.

We eventually turned the tellies down, and did what all expat women do within five minutes of meeting – exchanged life stories.

“Yar, Yar,” Sandy says, when we agree that only expat wives understand the effort it takes to move countries.

She tells me about a world where going home means catching a 30-seater helicopter to the top of a mountain, where she lunches and plays cards with the other ibu, or expat wives, and where in going about your daily business you risk being shot at. It makes ducking and weaving between the drunks in Richmond sound quite ho-hum.

Apart from being expat wives, Sandy and I have another thing in common: jewellery.  She loves black diamonds and I love pink ones, or any diamonds, really.

She tells me about the jewellery she bought at Far East Plaza in Orchard Rd, and about Pagoda St in Chinatown and life in Zim (Zimbabwe) and West Papua, and suddenly the high school geography map in my head comes to life.

I miss Sandy, especially as I now have a new roommate. She arrived at 10pm last night with her husband, which I found surprising as patients in Australia are usually admitted in the morning, and alone.

“Was it an emergency?” I ask the nurse.

“No, she is having a biopsy for a lump in her breast,” the nurse whispers.

Roommate No 2 has a long shower and then asks the nurses about the rules about eating and drinking before an operation.

“No  drinking after midnight,” they reply firmly – so she eats and drinks heartily and watches telly on full blast with the light on until midnight, where upon, after two hours of staring at the bright white fluorescent light on the ceiling and watching the flickering of the screen through the thin yellow curtain, I call the nurse.

“If she doesn’t turn off the telly and light I am going to climb over the curtain and remove that breast lump myself,” I hiss.

The poor nurse blinks with shock. “We Australians are outspoken,” I say, by way of explanation.

I guess this is why they gave me a sleeping pill and taped the curtains shut – having failed to convince Roommate No. 2 to stop partying and go to bed.

So you must forgive me, dear reader, when I admit to smiling when I heard Roommate No 2 throwing up violently the next day after her operation.

Luckily, by then I was IV free and was able to escape the sound of puking and groaning and waddle around the corridors in preparation for my escape the following day.

I am now writing this from bedquarters, having put in my ear phones and sprayed the room with perfume.

PS: There are some benefits to being kept awake until 5am by a flickering and muttering television. It gives one plenty of time to plot one’s revenge.

On her second night, at 4.17 am precisely, Roommate No.2, declined my pleas and that of the nurses to turn off the telly and go to sleep. “I can’t sleep,” she explained. And no wonder. Between throwing up, she kept asking for food.

So – and please don’t be shocked, dear reader –  I waited until she was purring gently at 6am, whereupon I turned my iphone to Man of La Mancha, beautifully sung by Linda Eder, and which begins with a terrifying trumpet solo, and which I thought Roommate No.2 might enjoy.

She enjoyed it at least 30 times for the next hour.

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