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The chronicles of two Portlanders in Singapore

My knee ached from pushing myself on the hamster wheel1the treadmill, loyal readers! but a swim sounded like a good idea and a way to get a good workout without further stress.  I made way down the carpark towards the lift to the pool, and found an unwelcome surprise – the pool was closed, again, from what I could only guess (and later find out) was another incident where someone had, well, had an accident.  Not wanting to get dressed for the gym, I went to alcove pool, and relaxed.  There are worse ways to recover from a small defeat.

Two weekends ago, Bev & I tried to drive to MacRitchie reservoir, only to find an insanely full carpark and our frustrations boiling over.  We instead found another reservoir, Lower Pierce, and with it, a quiet place to have a gentle stroll that we likely would have never found otherwise.  There are worse ways to recover from a small defeat, after all.

In a place where everything is unfamiliar – mind you, just vaguely unfamiliar; everything is in English and Singapore is perhaps the most Western-like city in Asia – things just don’t always go exactly to plan.  Even small things become a moment of stress, like when Bev wanted to mail something in locally to the “Friends of the Museums” club2SE Asian history, here we come!.  Finding where to buy stamps – indeed, does Singapore even use stamps? – finding where to drop our mail, our complex (and I imagine many others) doesn’t have mail pick up service.  Where to you find such things when the city, and the government, is different?  Google becomes harder too use too – here in Singapore, much like England, mail drop boxes are called “post boxes”, which of course in the US is a place to deliver mail – a post office box.

Those slight variations, those slight differences, they become the gap between daily life and frustration.  Plans can fall apart across those gaps, much like battle plans that never survive first contact with battle.  While we’re hardly at war with the day to day life in Singapore, it can often feel like conflict, as if the society itself is conspiring against you to prevent your daily tasks from success.  It is, of course, not the case, but rather the inverse, as we struggle to find a way to fit our expectations and needs into the manner of things in our host country.

We attended a cultural training courtesy of Nike & Cartus, that spanned two days in Bev’s office.  Going to “work” with Bev was a welcome experience, a trip back to the norm, to the structure of the day-to-day.  During the cultural training, we spent a lot of time discussing the differences between US culture and Singaporean/Asian culture.  One of the highlights was a slide of national mottos/phrases that sum up an aspect of the local culture.  The US was somewhat hilariously defined by a saying of one of our most beloved cultural icons; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”3Mexico’s was, “My house is your house,” which took me a while to realize that I didn’t understand it in English, but when translated, yes.  Mi casa es su casa, indeed. After the initial chuckle, I realized that Mickey was likely spot on.  It is in the American personality to endure failure as a means to success.

What was really a big shock was that in Asia, it is not.  Failure is to be avoided – don’t lose face.

After the MacRitchie experiment, Bev and I decided to try a local dim sum restaurant for dinner.  Bev admits that she has a dumpling problem, but I’m failing to see it.4Dumplings are amazing, what’s the problem?  We sit down and start checking off items only for the server to come by5after a considerable delay, but this is Singapore and tell us that pretty much every dumpling is off the menu tonight.  Tears began to form in Bev’s eyes – even if they weren’t visible, I could tell, having been in that exact state of emotion multiple times before.  The eyes tighten, and the mind refuses to accept any other path.  The stress builds, and then…

…and then dinner comes.  Pork ribs with an amazing hint of spice.  Wonton soup, also spiced but with the comfort of noodle and soup, a universal reminder of home.  Beef hor fun6wide noodles, something we had never had before but dug into with abandon once we had a taste.

Plans don’t survive here, not for newly moved expats of 1 month.  But they adapt well to the local flavor.  Maybe that’s the secret to making this work.

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