Singapore hawker centres are more than just an outdoor food court, more than a gathering of street food vendors. They are, first and foremost, a beloved part of the Singaporean culture, and it seems every local is religiously loyal to a particular stall in a particular hawker centre (information that they may or may not share with outsiders). To eat in a hawker centre for the first time is to experience Singapore in its purest form: It is always hot, you are always sweaty, you are surrounded by an overwhelming number of nationalities, hawking their overwhelmingly varied foods, all of which are overwhelmingly fragrant. (Have we mentioned overwhelming?) Almost every sign is actually in English, and yet you still can’t quite figure out where to stand, what to order, or how to do so. There are construction workers sitting alongside men in business suits; groups of teenagers and awkward first dates and huge families with more generations than seems possible. There are social mores and rules, which someone might explain to you– in a shout if you’ve pissed them off, or more often with the patient eye roll one might give a toddler who keeps putting his shoes on the wrong feet. But in the end, after a huge meal that cost less than your morning latte (often washed down with several icy Tiger beers), even the most clueless of expats finds there is a lot to love about the hawker centre.
These days, people everywhere are fairly attached to their phone screens- walking the dog, while on a date, even while driving. (Not us, obv. THAT WOULD BE ILLEGAL.) However- humanity’s addiction to the tiny glowing screen is nowhere more apparent than when taking public transportation in Asia. Here in Singapore, one can look across a subway platform and as far as the eye can see, every man, woman, and child, from the ages of 1 to 101, stares down into a phone. (Once, we brought an actual newspaper to read on the train, and suddenly felt incredibly out of place– like we should have also brought our chewing tobaccy or old-timey corn cob pipe.) And the crazy thing about this mass of bowed heads is, they never look up. No matter what. Up and down escalators, through crowds, on and off of train cars- never a head is raised. Everyone just shuffles along in a mass, hunched over their little glowing screens, as if guided by echolocation, or some sort of sixth sense. And MOST of the time, it all sort of flows at a fairly steady pace. Until someone’s big American toe gets in the way…
It’s stormy season in Singapore at the moment – or at least for some people. It’s the strangest phenomenon; in one part of the island, terrified expats (not locals, because they’re not so foolish) are grabbing tinned food and bottles of water and ushering their children into the cellar, while a mile away (as the sodden parakeet flies) sleep remains blissfully undisturbed. In any other country in the world you`d awake to news crews and emergency vehicles and possibly even a presidential visit; here, by the time the sun is up the nice men from the Department of Cleaning Up After a Storm have been and gone, and no trace of the battle between the Gods remains. Leaving you to wonder if indeed, you did dream it all. (But No! Look! The DoCUAaS missed a tree. I TOLD YOU.)
Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s herbs, it’s acupuncture, it’s the cupping that caused the strange perfectly circular hickies all over Michael Phelps’ back. (We assume. Unless he’s dating an octopus?) It’s also massage — if you’re strong enough to take it. Some of us clearly are not. (Many are, however, and this includes some of the 17,000-strong Singapore Expat Wives (aka The Wives) who grace the social forums on Facebook – and whose every recommendation we take as the word of God himself. Well perhaps no longer every.)
(And apologies ahead of time for the typos. One of us-ahem- was having issues that made texting really difficult– issues like muscle spasms and also almost dying.)
One hour later…
And a few hours later…
We expat parents face the same trials and tribulations of non-expat family life: the lost shoes, forgotten homework, night-time musical beds – and nagging by children to get a dog. Most of us ignore this last one – because even with live in help, who needs the extra work? Some, however, not only capitulate, but bring embarrassment on themselves – and everyone else – in the process. (And if you too are bereft of an education in the smutty ways of English folk and need to Google ‘dogging’, we suggest you do it in the privacy of a locked room. By contrast a search for a definition of ‘fogging’ will just yield a simple explanation of the use of lung-crushing gases to clear gardens and streets of pesky mosquitoes. The two should not be confused.) In the meantime, this is Scotch, who, fingers crossed, will soon become the latest addition to the Textpat clan (just as soon as Textpat A pays off all her driving fines etc…) (A tentative) Welcome Scotch!
It’s no accident that Singapore is such a clean, orderly, ridiculously safe place. (Your small child needs a ride home at 9:00 pm? No worries! Have him jump on the bus! Your toddler needs a bathroom in the middle of a crowded mall? Just follow the scent of lemon and fresh flowers and you’re there! Want to walk barefoot down Orchard Road? No problem! Your feet will probably be cleaner than when you started!). All this is possible because of All The Rules – or more precisely, because of the Fear Of What Might Happen if you Break The Rules. The vast majority of the time, this is highly effective in keeping people from acting like the mess-making, chaos-causing, raving maniacs that we all are. But it can be something of an adjustment for some of us expats, who come from lands which not only have far fewer rules, but also more scooter-riding, gum-chewing, and – we concede – raving maniacs.
For all its First-Worldliness, Singapore is still, at heart, a jungle. It’s smack bang on the equator, lush as you could imagine, where every morning one wakes to the screech of wild birds, as clouds of tropical steam rise from the hill (only one). While this makes for some great days out, it also means… tropical diseases. Forget chickenpox and the ‘flu– we’ve got some exotic shit going around this little island. We’re currently in the throes of both a Dengue and a Zika outbreak, which means we’re all a little on-edge, stockpiling cans of mosquito spray and obsessively changing vase water ten times a day. It can be somewhat overwhelming (especially if your child comes home covered with mosquito bites, and then suddenly shows all the symptoms of one of these diseases). But then there’s this: Did you know that Gin & Tonics actually PREVENT Malaria!? It’s true! (‘Course, you have to drink like 60 liters/day for it to work, but one does get VERY thirsty in this climate. And, we love a challenge.) Once we discovered that little Fun Fact, we realized that things aren’t so bad. So now we wake up every steamy morning, bathe our children in DEET, douse our homes in citronella, and do our part to keep the Malaria at bay.
There is always some potential for sketchiness when buying a used car. After all, you’re buying something that someone else has SAT in, with their BUTT, for HOURS, EVERY DAY. It’s like buying a used mattress in some ways. (Am I alone on this one?) And who knows what else has happened in there. Really. And that’s just the car– there’s also the meeting random strangers in random places, and negotiating with them, and giving them a bunch of money, and finding their weird stuff tucked under the seat… It’s inevitably a little dodgey. That’s true in any country. But. Then there’s doing it as a Singapore expat. Somehow when you’re spending the equivalent of what people back home might spend ON A HOME, the sketchiness involved in used car shopping feels even more pronounced. To the point where it might lead a otherwise fairly sensible and self-assured Expat to behave like she thinks she’s starring in her own little horror flick. (Though you have to admit- the house slippers? Weird.)