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21 September 2010

Disaster!

My visit yesterday, to try and pursue another line in my job quest, was a bit of a disaster to be honest.  Mainly I think through a slight breakdown in communication and where as I thought it was purely an opportunity to find out a bit more about a possible role they saw it as an interview.  Cue slight panic in me due to no preparation on that basis beforehand, none of my educational qualification certificates with me or my visa documentation.  I have to be honest I wouldn't rate yesterday's experience as the best way to spend the afternoon of your birthday.  Other than that though I had a lovely day by the way with drinks and the hottest Thai food I'm yet to eat in the evening, even hotter than what I ate in Thailand I'm sure!

Anyway back to yesterday afternoon, I had a long talk with them and although if I were to pursue this I would still have to go for further interviews (so no job out of yesterday itself) I think it made me realise again why I didn't pursue that particular career path 11 or 12 years ago when I had the chance to.  Although I'm technically still thinking about it before I go back to them to say if I want to continue to pursue this I think my mind is more or less made up that that route is not the one for me.

As I said there are no guarantees of a job offer out of it as I would still have had to go for further interviews etc. but of course I still worry about whether I'm passing up on an opportunity to secure that all important job here.  However if I have learnt one thing in recent years it is that sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling.  My gut feeling here is that I would be very unhappy and my poor fiance would be the only one I could ever really vent about it to over here, not good for me or him!

On a more positive note though today I actually had an e-mail from a company who have viewed my details on one of the many job websites I'm registered with here about a vacancy within their HR function.  Whilst I am doubtless one of many they've contacted regarding the post they need to fill I feel buoyed by the fact that I have at least been made aware of the role by the company even if nothing further comes of it.  So onwards and upwards the CV and information they require has been sent off to them and what will be will be!

20 September 2010

Birthday

So today is my birthday.  I have to admit it really has crept up on me this year without me giving it much thought.  I'm not sure if that's because I haven't been organising the obligatory work drinks or few drinks with a couple of good friends or whether just because I've got to the age now where I'm in denial about birthday's!  Either way happy birthday to me.

I had a nice relaxed weekend, some food out and yesterday afternoon a trip to the Long Bar at Raffles for a drink.  I didn't have a sling this time as Raffles is one of the few places here you can get rose so I had a nice glass of that instead.  I shall however be doing the slings next week as I have a friend coming to stay from the UK and you can't do Singapore without a trip to Raffles hotel and a Singapore Sling can you?!

I had half made up my mind that today I wasn't going to do any job hunting, chores etc as it is a special day but later today I have a meeting with someone about possible job options.  I couldn't really turn around and say I'd rather not because it's my birthday.  It was meant to be this morning but has now been postponed until later and so now I'm in limbo of not really being able to do anything before and knowing too that by the time I've finished there probably won't be enough time to do anything either then.  Today's meeting is not related to my HR experience but something totally different so we shall see what happens.  Even if it comes good I'll still have to apply and go for an interview but I am at least out there and hopefully getting myself noticed.

Whatever the outcome of today is I'm incredibly excited about the end of the week, I mentioned before that I have a friend from the UK coming to stay and she arrives on Friday.  I really can't wait, next weekend will be crazy too as we all have tickets for the Grand Prix and then I have a week to show her as much of Singapore as I possibly can and hope I don't get lost again myself.  I think though that we're going to have a really great time.

18 September 2010

So....what's it really like?

I have been asked this question many times and now I've been here nearly three months I think I can start to answer that a little bit.  Although I still have so much to learn myself.

As anyone who knows me well will say moving abroad was never something I'd considered doing and I have always had the greatest admiration for those who did it.  Having now done it myself though I've a new found greater respect for anyone who moves from what they know, their family and friends to a completely new country and culture for whatever reason.  I moved from just that, a close family, wide circle of friends and a comfortable safe life I guess and I have to admit that even I am proud of how well I've adapted to the changes I've encountered in the past three months.  Yes I have found it difficult at times but I'm determined no matter what to enjoy the experience and make the most of the opportunity that presents itself.

One of the things that has really impressed me with Singapore is their tolerance towards a multitude of cultures and religions no doubt coming from the majority of the locals descending from immigrants of one kind or another.  Equally like anywhere there are also things that are not so great.  One thing that always makes me smile is the way locals manage to worm their way to the front when getting on or off the MRT, despite numerous campaigns attempting to encourage them to show courtesy to one another.  I'm sure on the tube many of them would get an ear bashing in one form or another but not here and it always makes me chuckle.  The heat is another issue, being a Brit I'm not used to consist hot, humid weather but although I know back home the season is changing to Autumn and I miss the amazing colours of the leaves and trees I think that just maybe I'm getting used to this weather too.  Well I say that and tomorrow I'll be as hot and sticky as ever and wishing I could be sent to the Arctic but for now it's OK!  Those though are small things and ones that you can cope with without too much difficulty.

Yes it's very different from home despite it also being very westernised here and I do miss that familiarity at times but it is a great thing to experience and be here and I really wouldn't have changed this for anything.  I hope that at least some of my posts convey the excitement and nervousness in equal measure that I have for being here doing what I am doing.  Finally I would say to anyone in a similar position or who is considering moving abroad and who might be reading this grab the opportunity and do it.  You won't regret it whatever you end up doing and however long you stay away and maybe, just maybe, you'll return home a better person for it with life enriching experiences to share with others.

16 September 2010

Authentic Hokkien Lunch

Today I met a friend for lunch and it was lovely to have a catch up with her.  She is a local and I got to known her through my fiance as she is his HR contact in his job.  I worked in HR when I was in the UK and she has been helping me in my job searches and we've struck up a friendship through that.

She suggested Chinese for our lunch (fine by me) I told her beforehand that I wasn't that keen on sea food so as long as there were other options I would be absolutely fine.  So she took me to a Hokkien restaurant where she planned to select several dishes that were traditional Hokkien food for me to try.  Hokkien is one of the Chinese dialects spoken in Singapore and so I was very excited to give it a go.  She mentioned that there was fish but that it wasn't that overpowering so I figured I would be fine.

Yet again I got to practice with chop sticks and yes my quirky style is coming along nicely now.  I'm sure I'm probably holding them wrong but to be honest I manage to eat the food that way so I'm not going to worry about it too much.

My friend selected a number of dishes starting with a soup.  She mentioned it was slightly fishy but I said I'd be happy to try it and it was very nice.  She even told me which bits were the fish.  However when I asked her what type of fish it was she was a little vague saying it was fish maw, that it was a part of a fish but not to worry as it was nothing nasty.  When I got home I looked fish maw up on the Internet and discovered that this is actually the part of the fish called the swim bladder, gas bladder or air bladder - nice!  This part of the fish isn't actually anything to do with the bladder but is the part of the fish that helps it control its buoyancy so she was right it isn't used for anything unpleasant when the fish is alive.  It was actually very nice and I gather it is quite a delicacy.  However I admit if I'd know what it was even though it was nothing nasty I'm still not sure I'd have been that keen to try.  Maybe this should be my philosophy from now on, don't ask just eat and decide if you like it on that basis!!

After that we had prawns (yes more sea food) mixed up with some other meat (not sure what) which were similar to spring rolls and dumplings.  We had a number of dips and sides to eat with them in including possibly the hottest chili I am yet to taste.  It was tiny but bought tears to my eyes and left a warm glow inside me for quite some time!

We then had a dish of spinage cooked with garlic, followed by some noodles with yet more sea food thrown in.  After this we had what I can only describe as similar to a bread roll but a more doughy consistency, white in colour and sweeter tasting.  These are split open and you put slices of pork in them (which has the fat left on it) and other fillings, i.e. the chilli's, if you want to and eat them rather like a sandwich.  I gather that these aren't eaten that often as they are not very healthy (I can believe it).

Finally we had dessert and this was the part that I didn't finish as it really is an acquired taste in my opinion and one we just aren't that familiar with in the UK I guess.  The dessert was yam (which is a type of sweet potato) served with pumpkin and some luminous yellow beans which are meant to be good for the brain.  I'm not sure if that is the case as I can't remember what they were called, however I only ate one so perhaps my brain wasn't given enough.  It wasn't unpleasant but had a strange consistency and although it was sort of sweet it was savoury as well.  I gather that they actually fry the yam in onions and you could taste the onion which to me seemed a bit bizarre.  Other than that though the meal was lovely.  We washed it all down with a glass of a warm barley drink (similar to barley water but not as sweet) and some traditional Chinese tea which was very nice.

I really was delighted to try what was real food that the locals would eat.  I can't wait to go again to another one of her restaurant choices so she can pick my meal again and I know she is determined to get me eating every possible type of seafood she can before she has finished!

15 September 2010

Civil Defence Day

Today had a slightly unusual and unexpected element to it, well not totally unexpected but it would have been if it weren't for me watching TV last night.  I'm glad I was watching though or else I expect I'd still be trying to fathom what happened earlier today.

Let me go back..... I was happily watching TV last night whilst eating my tea when a message started scrolling across the screen that the island wide warning system would sound today at 12.05pm and that we should not be alarmed but should tune into local radio stations.  This intrigued me as I couldn't begin to imagine what was going to be announced in such a fashion.

Of course by the time midday today came I'd forgotten about the siren so when it went off (and sounded like invaders from outer space) there was a moment of what on earth is that, then I remembered and put the radio on.  The announcement was to remind people living here of what the siren would sound like if there was an emergency and a threat to Singapore either man made or natural and a reminder of what we should do if this did happen.  Apparently we should be going to our nearest shelter (at this point I'm thinking where on earth is that) and we should also have a book of relevant information about what to do in this type of scenario and also easy access to essential items listed within this book if they were needed.  Up until this point I was seriously wandering if the authorities knew something we didn't but they finished the announcement with a statement that it was being done as a reminder to everyone on Civil Defence Day - phew!

I found a website later this morning for the Civil Defence authorities here which has extensive information on what to do depending on where you are etc. I hope it just stays as useful information but at least if I ever hear it again I'll know what it is. 

14 September 2010

Lost in Chinatown

Yesterday saw me return to Chinatown again to visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre, based right in the hustle and bustle of it all.

Stupidly (and I probably shouldn't admit this seeing as I was there on the Saturday) I got lost getting there!  Yes I don't know how I managed it either particularly as the centre is just a stone's throw from the MRT station!  In my defence when I arrived I must have missed the exit I needed which would have meant I'd have found it with no problems and instead I left by a different exit.  A bit like when you go to Piccadilly or Leicester Square tube stations, I'm not sure I ever managed to leave by the exit I really needed to ever!  So rather than look at the map I always carry with me for situations like this, or indeed backtracking back down into the MRT to find the right exit.  I decided I wasn't far away from where I needed to be so I'd be able to find somewhere I would recognise or indeed if I kept walking would surely walk round the MRT station and find the exit I had actually needed.  There in was the second problem in that my terrible sense of direction took me in the opposite direction from where I should have been going!  So I kept walking past a food court and various shops desperately hoping I'd see a road name I recognised or indeed another entrance to the MRT.  In the end when I came to a more residential area I realised I was totally in the wrong place and perhaps I did need to look at that map after all.  When I eventually found where I was I couldn't believe how far I'd managed to walk and it meant backtracking to where I'd started and walking in the opposite direction.  Sure enough when I did that I soon found the parts of Chinatown I know and within no time the exit I had meant to come out of and then the centre!!  Perhaps next time I won't be so proud to get the map out after all!

The centre itself is based within three shophouses and charts the arrival of Chinese immigrants to Singapore who were looking for a better life and the journey they endured to get here.  The conditions they were forced to work and live in around Chinatown once they had arrived, including details of the clans that many of the Chinese immigrants joined and the vices that were prevalent at the time, eg. drinking, gambling, the brothels and opium smoking.  A further section then covers what is described as the 'golden years' of Chinatown in the early 1950s when the residents and Chinatown itself prospered and the whole lifestyle that was and still is embraced by the Chinese immigrants.  The final part of the exhibition then takes you through a recreation of what the shophouses would have looked like in the time when tiny cubicles would have been rented out in the upper levels of the shophouses to different tradespeople and families and what the lower part of the shophouse would have looked like which at that time housed a tailor's workshop, shop and living quarters.  The exhibition had many first hand accounts from former residents of the area including those who had lived in that shophouse at the time period of their reconstruction.  It was a fascinating exhibition and well worth a visit.

Mock up of a shophouse kitchen in the Chinatown Heritage Centre

Asides from this another thing currently going on in Singapore is the Mid-Autumn festival.  I've seen adverts for it around Singapore and at the weekend we stumbled across part of it whilst on our way to meet some friends for a few drinks in the late afternoon.  There were huge blow up animals representing all the different animals that make up the different Chinese new years, i.e. the tiger, horse, pig etc. and I understand the festival is for lunar worship and moon watching and from what we could see there seemed to be a whole host of stalls selling lots of different types of food and specifically something called moon cakes.  I wasn't sure what they were but having investigated a bit more I understand that people exchange these cakes to honour the fall of the Mongol Empire who, according to legend, plotted by means of messages secreted in cakes.  The cakes are on sale in supermarkets and various places at the moment and I think I need to buy some to try for myself!

13 September 2010

Chinatown


On the Saturday we decided to do another of the walking tours we have in one of the guidebooks we own, this time in Chinatown.  I've been there before a few times but using the guidebook to see some points of interest seemed like a nice idea.  Though we do look every inch the tourist doing it!  I was also on a mission to get a waving lucky cat (tacky I know but that was part of the appeal) and I figured Chinatown might be the place to get lucky so to speak.

Just briefly away from Chinatown and our walk when we go to the MRT station where the walk starts I noticed for the first time a shop in the station selling swords!!!  The mind boggles at why anyone wanting a sword would consider going to the local MRT station and I can't imagine ever finding the same shop in the UK at a tube or a train station.  I think it would be a recipe for disaster but clearly not here!

Anyway back to the walk, we started on the edge of the Central Business District (CBD) as Chinatown is adjacent to that part of the city.  Chinatown was the area where originally the new immigrants, in the majority from China, slept and ate.  At that time they worked primarily on the shores of the Singapore river where commerce occurred and the area became known as Chinatown.

Along the way we took in several temples each with the lovely smell of incense wafting out to us as we approached.  The one in the picture above is the Thian Hock Keng Temple which was built between 1839 and 1842.  Its name translates as Temple of Heavenly Bliss and it is the oldest and most important Hokkien temple in Singapore.  It was built on the site of a shrine to the goddess of the sea, Ma-Chu-Po which was once the favourite landing site of Chinese sailors when the road the temple is on (Telok Ayer Street) ran along the shoreline.  The road no longer does and is some distance from the water and is another example of where land reclamation has been used to expand Singapore.  Raffles Hotel is on Beach Road which once had a view of the sea, if you've ever been to Singapore you'll know that the sea is no where near the Raffles Hotel now!

Whilst on the walk we found a tiny free museum called the Fuk Tak Ch'i museum which has more information about the area and its past and saw many beautiful shophouses as we followed the route.  We were also taken to Club Street which once housed the Chinese guilds and clubs though now is a good place for restaurants and bars.  One of my previous visits to this street was to go to one of the bars, and as I can only lay claim to that I think that is a good example of why I needed to get a bit of the culture too and learn a bit about the history of the street!

We finished our walk right in the heart of Chinatown which is a mass of stalls selling all manner of things, tacky souvenirs included and yes I got my cat!  It truly is tack but I love it and it is now happily waving at me as I write!

Hari Raya Puasa

Friday was a public holiday in Singapore which was to celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan.  The past month really has been a colourful event where we live with decorations up on the streets and a whole host of temporary stalls set up on some grassland near us.

The stalls were selling all manner of things including carpets, food and clothing.  Every evening when fast was broken lots of people would come to browse the stalls looking for bargains no doubt.  Walking past the area now as they take down all the temporary structures I think it is going to look pretty bland for a while.

However they are setting up the grandstands and putting up the overhead lighting in the city ready for the Grand Prix at the end of the month which I think is going to be a crazy and amazing thing to witness.  Wandering around parts of the city now you already feel like you are on a race track.

We took advantage of the extra day to the weekend by going to a BBQ in the evening at a friend's condominium.  As well as having swimming pools and gym facilities a lot of the condominiums also have recreational areas which often include BBQ pits that can be booked by residents.  It was good fun though in typical holiday fashion it rained all day!!  Luckily it cleared up and as well as all the delicious food we had the local resident stray cat did very well out of the left over chicken at the end of the night!

09 September 2010

Rain Rain Go Away Come Again Another Day!!

As I indicated previously I went away and wrote out a list of all the things I wanted to do and had planned yesterday to do one of them, this being a trip to Orchard Road and specifically a shop called Antiques of the Orient (which is technically in a shopping mall in Tanglin Road) where I hoped to find something reasonable that I could buy as a souvenir of my time here.

When I finished work to start my career break they had a collection for me (which I wasn't expecting as technically at the moment I'm still going back) and had the money converted into Singapore dollars for me.  I decided therefore that I should use this money to buy something memorable and from there got the idea that maybe it should be something to reflect Singapore.  Yes I know given I've been here since July that most people would have long spent the money but I really wanted to be sure that what I bought with it was special before jumping to spend the money on the first thing I saw.  So I did a lot of homework before I came up with this shop as the place to go to find some reasonably priced items that might be just what I was looking for.

Yesterday though the rain and the thunder and lightening came and I'm afraid that was the end of the trip for me!  So the weather can ruin your plans in Singapore as well as in the UK!  Luckily apart from a quick shower this morning today was a much better day and I managed to go on my shopping trip.

In the particular mall where my shop of choice was there are numerous antique shops some I suspect with very expensive price tags but this shop was just right for me.  Lots of reproduction prints, photos, old maps etc. of Singapore, South East Asia and beyond.  I even found an old map of the UK.  What I was looking for though was a picture of old Singapore and in the end I was spoilt for choice but I settled on a picture taken in the late 1800s from the water looking at Collyer Quay.  I was so taken with the shop I can see myself going back to look for more, and even if I don't buy anymore it is the type of shop you could lose yourself in for hours browsing.

After that I was obviously on a high as I proceeded to buy several items of clothing in shops on Orchard Road before deciding perhaps I ought to quit and head home instead.  Oh well never mind!!!

06 September 2010

A Flat with Furniture - Woop Woop!

After a lovely week back in the UK my boyfriend and I returned to a considerably warmer Singapore just over a week ago.  We arrived back late on the Sunday evening and I then had to be up early the next morning as our furniture etc. had arrived on the container to Singapore and was being delivered that day.  It was certainly a good way to beat any possible jet lag!  I then spent much of last week unpacking boxes and trying to find homes for everything.  It isn't perfect yet but the flat really feels like a home now with all our bits around us again.

The flat before there was any furniture in it!

The flat here is smaller than our one in Twickenham was and so we were both a bit bothered whether everything would fit in or if it would look a bit cramped as a result.  However it all fits fine, the only slight problem being a lack of storage space.  Fortunately we have a three bedroom flat and though I insisted on the second room being kept 'nice' for guests (I have a friend coming at the end of September for starters) the other room has become a bit of what will hopefully be a temporary junk room whilst we sort through the final items etc.  The other main area we are using for storage is what would be the maid's living area if we had one.  This isn't much larger than a big wardrobe though but it all helps!

Monday was also my boyfriend's birthday so in the evening we went out for a couple of drinks with friends at a bar that he and I first visited when I was here in January and then a Thai restaurant for a meal afterwards.  The bar is called Blu Jaz and is in the Arab Quarter of the city.  This name for this part of Singapore I gather is only really used by tourists, the locals calling the area Kampong Glam.  The bar though is quite bohemian in its appearance but is a really nice place for a few drinks and they have live bands there sometimes playing jazz and a more dance music atmosphere upstairs at the weekend (as I discovered last Friday - definitely much more big fish, little fish, cardboard box to coin a phrase on the second floor!)

Later in the week we went to a shopping mall called Sim Lim Tower which specialises in shops selling electrical goods, a real geek fest to be honest but my boyfriend wanted a special lens for his camera in readiness for our Grand Prix trip later this month and this was the best place to go.  After that we went to a Chinese restaurant near by called Fatty's which was great.  They apparently serve what is probably the closest you'll find to Chinese food that you'd get in a takeaway in the UK and I have to admit the sweet and sour chicken really did have a taste of the UK about it.  There are still plenty of items on the menu you probably wouldn't find in the UK, i.e. frogs legs but it really was good.  I also braved chop sticks again and in my own way I'm developing a bit of skill with them and am at least managing to eat the food whilst it is hot and not leaving restaurants starving hungry. 

The next night being Friday we went out for a few drinks with a group of people we have got to know (hence us winding up in the upstairs part of Blu Jaz) and as well as there and some other bars we also went to a little Thai cafe called Thai Smile Cafe.  This was down a little side street and I would say would probably be classed as one of the more local eateries in Singapore.  I'm not a huge fish food fan but this past week even I have tried a few fish dishes and I have to admit, whilst I'm not sure I'd order a whole dish, the ones I have tried have been nice.  The only one I didn't try (and now kind of wish I had) was one of the dishes at the Thai cafe which had soft shell crab in it.  I was assured it wasn't too fishy but chickened out in the end.  I guess I shall just have to go back there again!

Obviously as you know I am looking for a job and did actually get a call about a potential role last Friday.  Unfortunately though the recruitment consultant called having not seen my CV and the role she had just wasn't suitable for me.  She has my CV now and well I guess a call about a role is a step further than previously so maybe things are on the up work wise too.  I have been feeling though that I do need to make the most of the opportunity to explore Singapore whilst I have the free time to do so as lately I feel like I've spent too much time in the flat either looking for work or doing chores (not that either of those things aren't important).  So I have decided to make a list from our numerous guidebooks of things I would like to do and then in amongst everything else try and do a couple of these each week.  So after my other chores the list is my task for later today and hopefully I can begin ticking items off this week.  I'm sure this will help to motivate me in my job search etc and asides from that I need to be doing other things so that I can continue to share my experiences and now we have our wii balance board try and fit in some sessions on that again too.  I'm not sure I'll have time for work by the time I actually do get a job!
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