The week started with promise – I had signed up on Meetup.com, a site that facilitates and helps folks organize group activities, and had committed to two group meets early in the week. Beverly and I had also joined the “Friends of the Museums” per a tip from Nicole, our cultural training instructor. This afforded us free admission to any of Singapore’s many museums, and I had planned on taking advantage of that early in the week. Beverly was leaving early Monday for a week-long business trip in China. This would be the second trip for her away from our new home in Singapore and one that I hoped I would weather better than the previous.
We kissed our goodbyes at an unholy hour Monday morning and Beverly left, eager to ensure that she caught her hired taxi. I lay back in the bed, my eyes flittering open and shut for the next hour. Mini jumped up and down on the bed, signaling to me that, no matter the position of the sun in the early morning sky, she had to pee. Such are the important issues of my day.
I struggled to get up. It was still rather early. I threw on some basic clothes, I pulled a hat down low over my eyes, and sprayed some bug spray on my exposed1and quite tasty, apparently limbs. I grabbed a bag, I grabbed the leash, I grabbed my wallet, and as I have done every day since the Fifty-Dollar Dash, checked to ensure my key card was inside.
Well, I had gone swimming the day before, I must have left it on the table, I thought. But it wasn’t there. Maybe, then, I had placed it in the guest bathroom, next to my goggles. No such luck there. Panic started to settle in. Mini started to get that sort of excited that told me, inside, outside, I’m starting to not care where I pee, dad. Could I have left the key card by the pool? Either way, I had to get this dog outside. I grabbed the keys to the apartment door that opens towards the service lift, and went down that way, remember that the security team had told me that as long as I had my door keys, they could open the service lift lobby. That worked – I was able to get back in the unit that way without issue, at least.
It had occurred to me that I couldn’t have left the key card by the pool – how else would I get back in? I remember placing the card next to my wallet as I entered and then the terrible realization hit me. Beverly, in a rush to make her taxi, grabbed my card without checking if hers was already in her purse. Her plane hadn’t yet left so I called her, only to confirm that both of our apartment keys were en route to China and due to fly out in 30 minutes.
Panic and frustration ruled the rest of the day. I could come and go, but it felt tenuous – at the mercy of the service lift door that ought to be locked and require a key card to open but thankfully did not. I talked to the management office, and the (quite overworked) woman that worked there tried to help me by re-programming the only spare RFID card she had but to no avail. I’m ashamed to say that I probably annoyed the living hell out of her checking in on her progress every two hours.
It was in this state that I left the unit Monday night for my first Meetup – the Singapore Expats’ Support Group. It was hosted in a physical therapy studio about five minutes away driving, so I drove. Wanting comfort, I wore blue jeans, savoring the feel of comfortable jeans. I figured this was a good first group – if nothing else, I needed support at that moment!
The meetup was an incredibly comfortable and surprisingly populated affair with about ten other folks there looking for networking, socialization and support. The group was facilitated by a professional therapist and expat herself, who excelled at getting people to share their challenges and frustrations. The other members – some recently arrived, others trailing spouses like myself, one of which was also male, who told me of another meetup for male trailing spouses. Some of the other members were native Singaporeans who had just returned and found that the process of repatriation was harder than expected. The night passed well, and by the end of the two hour session, I found myself with connections and an already broaden social network. As I walked back to the car, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, comfortable in the night air, I thought – I can do this. I can succeed through these challenges.
Tuesday night had another group event I wanted to attend, the Singapore Writers’ Group. Though I was still cautious about leaving – and more importantly – returning, I made plans to get dinner in Holland Village and take the train to Bugis, near Arab Street and the old Sultanate palaces. The meetup was being held in an artsy bar/coffee house, one of which you would find on any number of East Portland street corners. Despite the heat and the weak air con of the place, I found myself immediately at home in the bohemian environment, where I met other writers in Singapore, aspiring or otherwise.
This too led to another meetup – the writers’ group has several smaller genre-based groups for brainstorming, idea sharing, review and critique of others’ writing. Though I spent most of the night trapped in a conversation regarding educational technology2by someone who confessed that they weren’t a writer and just liked showing up to social events? I was a little annoyed, I wanted to talk writing, not IT!, I was introduced to an affable and immediately likable French woman named Magali, who all but begged me to come to the Sci-Fi and Fantasy group the following night. I made non-committal noises, but who was I kidding? At this point, I was hooked, finally finding the socialization I craved.
In fact, all told, I attended four meetup groups this week -the sci-fi/fantasy group and I met my new friend Laurent for lunch with the “Singapore Overbooked Men’s Association,” a group of trailing husbands from all over the world and in various places in their life/careers/families. The sci-fi/fantasy group featured two Americans besides myself, the host from South Carolina and the other a Vancouverite who had moved with her husband from NYC. As the night ended, Haley, my fellow Pacific North Westerner, bummed a ride home with me, having found that we live not a kilometer apart. We spent the drive home talking about the change in car orientation (neither her nor her husband drive), the lack of good Mexican food in town, and things that we miss from the liberal parts of North America.
The museums too were something that I finally followed through on, by Wednesday, I had worked up the comfort to leave the unit without serious concern of not being able to get back in. I took a series of trains to Bras Basah3Bras Basah is actually a stop on the circle line, which runs through Holland Village. However, the circle line ironically does not form a circle, making the trip from Holland and other points west rather long to the “east” end point at Dhoby Ghaut, one stop past Bras Basah. It’s often quicker to walk to the green East-West line and change trains downtown. which deposited me at the doorstep of the Singapore Art Museum.
Admission to the “SAM” is usually around $6, but for the Friends of Museum, it’s free – I flashed my card, got a cool sticker proclaiming that “I am for SAM” and more importantly “I didn’t sneak in” and walked about. Some of the galleries were in between exhibits, but they had a wonderful exhibit around the theme of “utopia”, a rather appropriate consideration as I struggled with adaptation and acclimation. The exhibit featured works that dealt with not only utopian images, but dystopian images and videos as well. The concept of utopia was explored in four chapters – gardens, cities, legacies and inner peace – and showed powerful images of joy and despair, most notable was an artist who filmed himself walking from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh while dragging a large metal ball behind him. It reminded me of my desire to see Cambodia and witness its history, both ancient and recent, to see the beauty of French Indochina, and the piety of Angkor Wat against the brutality of the Khmer Rouge and the horror of the Killing Fields.
Late Thursday night, the lift doors opened and Beverly walked back into our home. We took yesterday to visit the Asian Civilization museum, learning about the effects of the trade routes to the east even as far back to the days of Alexander, and reveled in learning more about our new home and its history. We learned more about the Buddha, and the routes of Islam and the power of the Indian textile market. I showed off my knowledge being the only person who knew what a kris was, and we saw one of the most remarkable printings of the Quran – the text was calligraphed in incredibly small print to form larger letters in Arabic. The mind staggers at the time it took the calligrapher to print that.
Our week ended on the bank of the Singapore river, we shared a pitcher of Tiger and watched the afternoon heat up around us, the nearly day-long rain storm passing to reveal a clear night. In the distance we saw the Mandarin Oriental, where we first saw the city from. It reminded me how far I’d come, only to be a few hundred meters away from where I started. This is life in Singapore, you can cover a lot of ground in a short distance.
I really enjoy reading your blog and, in some ways, I feel like I’m looking into a possible future for myself. I’ll be heading to Singapore in July (for my wife’s job) and I really appreciate you taking the time to post about the things you are doing. We’re similar in a lot of ways, with similar interests, and I have found this to be extremely helpful for me as it helps me to envision life there. In short, thanks!
Hey Alex – I’m happy to hear it. It sounds like we’re soon to be in the same boat. Feel free to drop me a line when you get here!