A newbie in Singapore

Now I’m officially here to stay in Singapore, which means my employment pass has finally been approved, I can actually start blogging about what I’ve been up to, something I wanted to do weeks ago but didn’t dare as I didn’t want to tempt fate. I don’t actually believe in fate mind you, but hey, someone official might have read this blog, decided I was a bit previous with being excited about a job I didn’t officially have approval to do and ordered me home. You never know…

I don’t know how many people will read this (hopefully regular) blog, but if nothing else, it’ll be a good reminder for myself a few years’ down the line about what it was all really like, rather than what I choose to remember. (That’s for the psychologist in me who knows a bit about how flawed our brains are when it comes to retrieving and recalling memories, as well as our tendency to remember the peaks and ends of experiences better than all the other trivial stuff that happens in the middle.)

As this is my first blog in Singapore, I should probably begin at the beginning. There are quite a few potential beginnings, including the beginning where I was offered the job to come out to Singapore and head up a new office for the company I work for, but this beginning starts the weekend before I left, 2nd and 3rd January 2016.

On the Saturday night I had what my Mum ominously called ‘the last supper’, a curry in Hyde followed by drunken dancing featuring my Mum, her husband, my brothers and their partners and my lovely niece, Mille. (Note: Millie did not partake in drunken dancing, she’s waaaay to young for that yet.) I saw a lot of my Dad over the weekend too as he helped me sort out some of the last things I had to do around the house, and I spent Sunday evening with him, my last night in the UK.

That weekend was weird, because for months I’ve known I was coming out here and been preparing for it – packing up things I wanted to bring out here with me, throwing out clutter from the house (I filled a huge skip, plus more. It was probably only a matter of time before the TV show Hoarders: Buried Alive caught up with me), sorting out life’s admin like bank accounts, selling my cars, cancelling my TV licence and other exciting stuff like that, as well as handing things over at work and preparing for my new job out here. But none of it quite seemed real. It was like this nebulous ‘thing’ that was happening at some distant point in the future. Not now, not really. In a few months’ time. In a few weeks’ time. In a few days’ time. Not on Monday. Not tomorrow. Not now. Time has a sneaky habit of creeping up on you like that. Even when you’re expecting it.

That weekend, it got real. Saying goodbye to my Mum, my Dad and my brothers made it feel real. Saying goodbye to my two beloved parrots, Kev and Mel, when I left them with my Dad to look after (temporarily, I hope) made it seem real. Was I really leaving everyone?

On the Sunday night, alone in a house devoid of pretty much everything apart from a bed, a TV, a settee and a packed suitcase, and a significantly quieter house than usual – mainly because of the absence of Mel’s shrieking and Kev’s frequent shouts of ‘what you doing?’ – I started wondering what the hell I was actually doing, and what business I had moving 7,000 miles away from anyone I knew and everything I know and setting up a new office with no real idea of whether any of this was going to work. I’ve literally never spent more than three weeks out of my home town of Denton in my life (seriously), and while I’ve travelled all over the world on holiday and all around the country for work, I’ve never lived more than about half a mile from where I grew up. [I say I’ve travelled the world on holiday. I’d never actually been further East than Egypt until I got this job and came out here for the first time in October. So maybe a better description would be to say I’ve travelled Europe, Africa and some parts of the US and Caribbean. Doesn’t make me sound as worldly-wise though.]

And after lying awake for ages worrying about what on earth I’d let myself in for I thought, shut up Schoey, this is is going to be the biggest adventure of your life. This is an opportunity to find out what you’re really made of and do something amazing that most people never get the chance to do.

You know, if the last few months have taught me anything (and they’ve taught me a lot of things, I can tell you, but that’s for another blog), they’ve taught me that life’s too short to get hung up about ifs and buts and maybes. The best thing – for me at least – is to try to do as much as I possibly can with my life while I’ve got the chance. And if those things include a massively exciting, life-changing adventure halfway across the world, experiencing a completely new culture, country, job and life, then that’s all the better.

I decided I was going to smash it.

So many people have told me how brave I am, how they’d never have been able to do something like this, especially on their own, not knowing anyone. I’m sure there are some people who think I’m brave doing this as a solo young(ish) woman – although no-one’s specifically said that to me (I can think of a few who’ve probably thought it though). For me, my age and the fact I have boobs is irrelevant. Loads of people travel these days. And if a man can do it, so can I. I can even do weeing standing up now I have a shewee.

And I’m not brave. Not really. I’ve just made a conscious decision to make the most of every opportunity which comes along. Yes, after what I’ve been through, I’ve probably been stronger over the last few months than most people expected (including me), but life isn’t a cliched bed of roses, it’s cruddy and shitty and really bloody awful sometimes, but it’s also amazing when you open yourself up to the people, places and experiences it offers. We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to what happens, and my response is to think about my future and make the most of every minute. That’s not being brave, it’s being pragmatic.

I digress. Bleary-eyed at the check-in desk at Manchester Airport at 6am the next morning my main concern wasn’t what the hell I was doing going to Singapore, it was making sure I didn’t have my duty free wine taken off me en route. You’re allowed to take two bottles per trip into Singapore and I was sure as hell going to take two bottles with me. I knew the Singapore Airlines flight stopped in Munich on the way, and that you get off and then get back on the same plane, but I didn’t know whether you’d go through the scanners and get any liquids that were 100ml+ taken off you. This was extremely important. Wine is sooooo expensive in Singapore, it is now a rule that anyone who comes to visit me must bring two bottles of duty free white wine with them. Good news from the check-in desk: no scanners at Munich, you just sit at the gate. Phew. Duty free wine, here I come.

When I arrived in Singapore around 15 hours later, even more bleary-eyed than I was in Manchester, and with my single suitcase and two bottles of duty free wine in tow, I was reminded of just how hot and humid it is. Having been out here twice before for only a total of around 10 days, once in October with colleagues and my Mum, and then again for a few days on my own in December, you forget (or at least, I did) just how different the climate is. Yes, obviously I know it’s hot, but it does hit you like a wall when you walk out of the air-conditioned airport (everywhere is air-conditioned in Singapore) and realise the jeans and long sleeved silk shirt you’ve been wearing on the plane and which were just fine in Manchester aren’t really helping the sweat situation. In fact, so I’ve learned recently, despite being a natural fibre silk is not good for avoiding sweating at all. It retains water. At least it doesn’t smell when it gets sweaty.

I was met at the airport – with a card with my name on and everything – by Wilson, who took me to the apartment I’m currently living in and showed me around. That didn’t take too long, it’s not a huge apartment, but then most of them aren’t here. Space is at a premium, and newer apartments like this one tend to be built smaller so they can fit more into the developments. It’s nice, it just feels like a hotel. Which it kind of is really, so it’ll be nice to get into my own place in a couple of weeks’ time. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The apartment I’m in, on the 10th floor of The Altez, is ideally located for settling me into Singapore as it’s only a 15 minute walk to work. That would be a 10 minute walk in Manchester, but you can’t walk too fast here without ending up a sweaty mess, and that’s not really the look I’m going for, so 15 minutes it it. It’s got a couple of pools, plenty of food places nearby and its location means I haven’t had to worry about navigating across Singapore for the commute to work in the first few weeks. I’ve had to buy Apple TV though as the TV package in the apartment mainly seems to have local (read: non-English-speaking) channels or news. My Mandarin isn’t up to much yet and there’s only so much rotating news you can watch, but there’s a lot of Netflix to get through. (Note to self: there’s a big city out there, watching entire series’ of Broadchurch and Making a Murderer on Netflix isn’t the key to exploring it…)

You might be wondering what Singapore’s really like. When you ask people who’ve been here on holiday, one of the first things they say is it’s ‘safe’. Not in a Manc way (as in ‘yeah, he’s safe’) but that it’s a really safe place. I thought that was such a weird thing for people to describe somewhere as, but when you get here it makes lots of sense. Apparently Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world. And as a seasoned veteran of three whole weeks it really feels like it. No problem to be wandering around with a map on your own at 11pm; if anyone approaches you they’re likely to be offering you directions rather than wanting to mug you! That’s not to say you shouldn’t have common sense, but genuinely the vast majority of people seem really friendly, polite, helpful and welcoming.

As an example, I was on the MRT yesterday (MRT = Mass Rapid Transit – basically underground trains, like the tube in London except spotless and air-conditioned and you don’t get black snot in your nose after being on them) with half a dozen shopping bags after spending the afternoon, and a small fortune, in one of the shopping malls. I got on the MRT and a lady offered me her seat. What?! That definitely wouldn’t happen in Manchester. And it’d be even less likely on the tube in London where you avoid eye-contact at all costs. Clearly I’ve only scratched the surface so far, so it’ll be interesting to see whether my views change once I’ve been here a bit longer, but safe (literally) to say it’s definitely safer walking around the streets here at 3am than it is in Piccadilly Gardens…

Despite being here three weeks, the longest time I’ve ever been on holiday for previously (and as I said, the longest time I’ve ever spent out of Denton), and despite the fact I’ve been crazy busy at work since I arrived, I still feel a lot like I’m on holiday. I suppose that’s natural, especially until I’m in my own place with my own furniture etc. and with every experience still feeling so new, but I also think one of the reasons for this is psychological…to me, hot weather is a heuristic (mental shortcut) for being on holiday, as the weather in the UK is pretty much never hot, and I’ve always loved to holiday in places with better weather, which is pretty much anywhere really. Plus being somewhere where you need suntan lotion everyday and where your apartment has a pool is definitely holiday territory. I’m not sure how long it will take me to break this, or whether I ever will. In a way I don’t want to, I totes love holidays!

So what can I tell you about Singapore? Well, the food is amazing, and extremely cheap if you visit the local hawker centres; anywhere between £2-4 gets you a huge plate of fantastic food. These are street food stalls which are all government-regulated and have food hygiene certificates so no dicky tummy, even with my IBS, which is a lifetime first for me. I thought being vegetarian I might struggle to find things to eat as there’s so much meat and fish in everything, but there are loads of places if you look for them. In some cases, I’ve had no idea what I’ve been eating, but I’ve been assured it’s vegetarian so I’ve tried it, and I’ve yet to find something I don’t like, even thought I thought I was fussy. Here are some examples. Obviously I recognise what a curry looks like.

Wine is expensive. It’s all imported which adds to the cost but it’s also taxed heavily and I learnt last night at a wine tasting event (more on that later) that the government adds a standard levy of around $10 on every bottle imported, so you’re better off buying a more expensive bottle of wine as the tax comprises a lower proportion of the price (top wino tip!).

You can drink the water from the taps. Singaporeans drive on the left side of the road, like in the UK, but cars are ridiculously expensive to run, as they’re taxed even more than wine. Like, two times the value of the car just to put it on the road, never mind road tax. Hence the people who have cars are people who can afford them (apparently 16% of households are millionaires here), and you see and hear more than a reasonable share of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls Royces and other beautiful driving beasts than you’d probably see anywhere else in the world other than somewhere like Monaco. (While I mention Monaco, Singapore, Monaco and Vatican City are the only three city-states in the world i.e. where the country is the city. Factoid for you there.) But the public transport is so good, you don’t need a car. Despite having two cars back in the UK (and shedding a little tear when my lovely Lotus Elise drove away after I parted with it before moving – yes, really), I haven’t missed driving much. There’s still time though. And I do have achey feet as they’re not used to doing so much walking. That’s actually one of the reasons I went shopping yesterday, to buy some comfortable shoes!

The plug sockets and voltage are the same as the UK so you can bring your gadgets from home and they work. Wine is expensive. Taxis are cheap – much cheaper than in the UK, as is the public transport actually, which is probably why taxis have to be cheap to compete. It’s hot and humid, all the time – the temperature doesn’t vary much, even at night. As well as being hot and humid, it’s monsoon season at the moment, and I’ve never seen rain like it. Think it rains in Manchester? Next time it rains, check if it feels like someone’s chucking buckets of water at you from all directions, or whether the whole floor (not just parts of it) is like a 2” deep puddle. No? Didn’t think so. That happens most days at the moment. And you won’t find a taxi when it rains either as everyone’s after one. But at least it’s hot rather than being freezing cold rain.

It’s also busy everywhere. While the whole main island of Singapore is about the size of Greater Manchester, it has twice the population; I read about how crowded it gets before coming but the number of people walking around the central business district (or CBD as it’s known) in the morning and at lunchtime is crazy. As a slight claustrophobic, I can’t wait to experience the MRT at rush hour once I’ve moved into my apartment (!)…but at least the noise is minimal from there as it’s a bit away from the main road. The one I’m in now might be on floor 10 but as soon as you open the window you can hear the traffic noise below. There’s also loads of construction all around Singapore, from new condo buildings to new MRT stations. So many things are newly built, that an apartment built before the year 2000 is considered old!

Did I mention wine is expensive?

I’ve got loads more to write but I can feel a curry coming on; it’s teatime (that’s dinner for anyone reading who’s not from the north of England) so I’ll sign off for now. So I’ll catch you next time when I’ll tell you about finding an apartment, starting work in a new city, attempting to make friends and finding a hairdresser who can cope with platinum blonde. (I say ‘finding’, I’ve found a hairdresser and made an appointment; whether they can ‘do’ the blonde and style I’m after is to be confirmed next Saturday.)

 

2 thoughts on “A newbie in Singapore

  1. Stephen Welch says:

    So….the adventure starts. Look forward to reading your next blog. If I visit Singapore on holiday any time soon, I won’t forget to bring 2 bottles of white wine for you. Apparently it’s really expensive out there lol. Good luck Schoey x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dani says:

    Fabulous post Karen. Feels just like you’re in my lounge after a few glasses of (cheap) wine with just the right amount of nerdy facts and humour to remind me why I love you.

    Just for the record, you are brave.

    Liked by 1 person

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