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30 March 2011

Help Or Not

I have been reading lots lately about the maid or 'help' culture in Singapore and whether it is abused and so on.  The latest I've seen are the photos doing the rounds on the Internet of the National serviceman having the family maid carry his rucksack, and whether that is acceptable or not.

We don't have a maid and to me it still seems an alien concept.  In the UK the only people you imagine having that type of luxury are the very wealthy, celebrities and the royal family who can afford to have live in nanny's or servants.  That said as it is only me and my fiance and I'm not currently working there is no need for us to have a maid.  I've come to realise it is a pretty common practice here and indeed our condo, as many others are, is equipped with a maid's room and shower/toilet cubicle for her.  This part of the condo is without air conditioning or hot water however and the bedroom is not much bigger than a walk in wardrobe.  It therefore makes a very handy additional storage space for us instead. 

Family and friends in the UK are always fascinated when I tell them about these facilities and this culture.  If we did have a maid I'd struggle with her being cooped up in that room with not much more than a wet room as a bathroom, though I fully appreciate that this is the accepted norm for accommodation.  As my fiance is also often away with work too I'd find it weird sitting watching TV in the evening knowing she was sat in her room or in the kitchen just a few feet away from me.  I think I'd also find it hard to justify to myself why we needed one.

For family's however I can understand why a maid is a god send and as I've mentioned in previous posts when I'm mopping my brow doing the housework I'd happily justify having someone else do it for me.  The working culture in Singapore means that individuals work very long hours and if you have a family and can afford it I can understand why that extra support is very useful.  However I do also wonder how much of a culture shock it is for young Singaporeans, who perhaps move abroad to study and have been privileged enough to have a maid, when they suddenly have to tidy up and cook etc. for themselves.  Likewise with Singapore being such a safe place to live how much of a shock is it when they come to a place, such as the UK, and suddenly have to be a lot more aware of the situations they are putting themselves in.  I'm digressing though and maybe that is something to think about for another day.

If the photo of the National Serviceman is genuine though I personally think that is taking the privilege of having a maid too far.  I am sure there are lots of families who cope perfectly well without that additional support and if they had it would not allow that to happen.  What are your thoughts?

25 March 2011

Kampong Glam - Arab Quarter

Kampong Glam or the Arab Quarter as it is also known is an area of Singapore where traditionally the Malay and Arab communities lived.  This area along with amongst others Chinatown and Little India were parts of Singapore that, at the time of the colonisation of the island by Sir Stamford Raffles, were designated areas for the different communities to live.  It is an area that continues today to have a strong Malay and Arab influence and is well worth a visit.

The name, Kampong Glam is derived from two Malay words.  Kampong means village or settlement and from books I've read about Singapore there were at one time lots of Kampongs scattered all over the island and Glam (or Gelam) refers to a variety of eucalyptus that grew in the area.






The area has tiny, narrow streets worthy of being visited which are full of shops and restaurants.  The photo above shows some of these streets.  Kampong Glam includes possibly one of the smallest streets in Singapore, Haji Lane.  It looks no more than a small side street at first glance but is definitely worth exploring for quirky, individual shops and restaurants.  There are also a lot of traditional textile and carpet shops scattered in the streets which are well worth investigating too.  Both these photos show the Sultan mosque, which is considered one of the most important mosques in Singapore and is certainly a very striking landmark of the area and easily spotted.  There is a palace here too, the Istana Kampong Glam, I've not been here but it now houses the Malay Heritage Centre.  So one for the 'to do' list I think. 

Close by is possibly one of the best bars in Singapore.  It was certainly a great find when my fiance and I first arrived (we were residing in a hotel very near Kampong Glam and found it quite by chance on an evening walk).  I'd definitely suggest a trip to Blu Jaz, you can read more here Top 5 chill out bars in the Lion City but if you are looking for somewhere relaxed with live music (on certain nights) this is the place for you.  It always strikes me as a slightly bohemian place where artistic, trendy and cool Singaporeans (and others) hang out and somewhere a little more individual than a lot of the places in the city.

This is an area I've not come to a great deal and consequently is somewhere I still need to explore more.  We've only eaten at a couple of restaurants here (apart from eating at Blu Jaz) and that was all some time ago now so we definitely do need to return soon!

20 March 2011

Things That I Don't Miss About Singapore (But Only a Little Bit)

I previously wrote about some of the things I've been missing about Singapore whilst I've been back in the UK.  It only seems fair that I now write about some of the things I've not been missing quite so much.

Weather

As much as I like the weather in Singapore it is also something that at times I dislike just the same.  I know that sounds mad but when everyday is more or less the same, very hot and very humid, it can get a bit exhausting.  I sometimes actually long for half an hour or so of snow, though if it happened the novelty would quickly wear off.  I don't think you ever get used to the intensity of the heat and humidity you just learn to live with it and adapt to it, or at least I think I have over time.  Prior to my return to the UK Singapore was experiencing (by their standards) a relatively cool spell, so much so that locals were complaining it was cold!  Please come to the UK in January and February, that's cold.  I gather now though that this has passed so now that my return is imminent I need to prepare myself for that hit again as soon as I step out of the airport. 

I never thought about it prior to moving to Singapore but I do miss the seasons.  Having returned to the UK at the end of January I really am appreciating the signs of Spring I'm now seeing and the milder weather.  I find a lack of seasons makes it difficult to appreciate yearly events, particularly those I associate with cold weather.  They just seem to come and go with me barely noticing them now.  Halloween in the heat seemed weird, Bonfire Night (admittedly that obviously isn't celebrated here but the 5 November should have been cold) and as for Christmas, well I got there but it took some work.  I'm sure it will be easier next time around though.

Food

Actually I don't have anything bad to say about the food.  The only nice thing about being in the UK is not having to be so bone aware!  By that I mean knowing I can enjoy a meal without having to remember to look out for the bones.  It took me a while to get into that mindset when I came to Singapore and even now I occasionally forget only remembering when the bones appear.  I suspect with my brief sojourn in the UK I'll be out of practice again.

Wildlife

I can only really list the mosquitoes and cockroaches here, I'm not even sure if you could really say that's wildlife.  It's nice not being bitten (though I admit my worst experiences have actually been in Thailand rather than Singapore) and nice not having to do battle with a massive cockroach that has decided to take up residence on our balcony.  Actually can I also add beetles to this list?  I know you get beetles in the UK (and for that matter cockroaches) but there are some big ones out in Singapore which again seem to be drawn to our balcony at the most inconvenient times.

Taxis

Taxis in Singapore are a god send for escaping from the heat as much as for taking you to places but can be a nightmare too.  There are plenty of taxi ranks and you can flag taxis down in most parts of the city, but that does not mean they'll stop (even when they are 'on call') or will be prepared to take you to your destination.  I've spoken to many expats and locals who feel exactly the same and have even read about their reputation in travel guides so I'm sure I'm not alone in this frustration.  Taxis will suddenly be 'on call' when you are trying to flag them down, if you are queueing in a rank will ask you where you want to go and then decline to take you.  Shift change is another issue, every taxi you see will be on a shift change going to the opposite end of the island and even those going in the direction you are will pick and choose if they want to take you.  You can telephone for taxis as well but are sometimes not much better off as you can be left hanging on for ages only to be told there are no taxis available in your area.  I would not even bother trying to get one when it's raining, but well that can be said of anywhere as suddenly everyone wants a taxi then.

I should say there are plenty of brilliant taxi drivers out there too who are only too keen to help you.  It is the few who make it very frustrating but I guess you find taxi drivers who behave like this all over the world.

MRT Etiquette

Unless I've missed it there does not seem to be any one agreed side of the escalator to stand on whilst on the MRT (or indeed anywhere where escalators are involved).  This is slightly frustrating especially if you are in a rush as you then have to navigate around the people in your way who are standing all over the escalators.  Travelling on the tube again has therefore been a pleasure in that the majority know you stand on the right and pass on the left.  Although I admit that on every return trip to the UK I have to refresh my memory as to which side I should stand after the free for all of Singapore!  As for when I'm using an escalator on the MRT I tend to stand on the same side as the person in front of me, be that to the left or the right - so perhaps I'm no better!

The other problem with the MRT, everyone bundles on without letting people off first.  My recent tube journeys have again generally been a pleasure, everyone knows this rule and anyone forgetting usually gets a blunt reminder from someone getting off.  Recently there was a courtesy campaign on the MRT reminding people to let others off before they got on, to move down into the carriages etc. etc. well it did not last long and in the main it did not seem to make any difference.  I actually find it highly entertaining how passengers manoeuvre themselves into position to be first on or first off even if they are at the back of a large crowd.  What amuses me even more is that no one ever seems to ask them to wait before rushing on to the train.  I sometimes wonder how they'd fair on a rush hour tube train and the answer, I think, is not too well, there are plenty of people in London who would happily point out to them the error of their ways.

Despite all this though, as I said in my previous post, I have missed Singapore and am looking forward to returning.  Let's face it there is plenty I can moan about and likewise sing the praises of about life in the UK!  You can read about some of the things I have missed about Singapore whilst I've been away here. 

14 March 2011

Things I Miss About Singapore

I have about a month until I return to Singapore and I've really missed it.  Not just because my fiance is there but also because I feel like my life is there now.  Its been great seeing all my family and friends and having longer to do it all in of course but I'm living out of a suitcase and have nothing here other than what's in that case.  Luckily I've been very busy wedding organising but there have been times when I've been bored here and somehow I don't get bored in Singapore.  All of this got me thinking about what things I've been missing and what I'm looking forward to getting back too.

Weather

Firstly it has to be the weather, I know I was not in the UK when they had the really bad weather at the end of last year but I've been so cold at times and the endless gloomy days have been miserable.  Luckily now it looks like Spring might be here, at least in the South, they still have snow in Scotland (tempting fate no doubt there).  The days though have been much milder and brighter and I feel a whole lot better for it.  I miss Singapore's consistent warm weather though, even the thunderstorms, in fact especially the thunderstorms.  Watching the storms roll in is brilliant and you don't get to do that in the UK.  Never having to think about putting on a jumper, let alone a coat and just being able to go out as you are is simply great and I miss it.

Food

I really do think my palate has altered a bit, well my diet has at least, I'm missing the food.  Now I know you can get Western food in Singapore and we do eat that and similarly you can get Chinese and Indian food here in the UK.  Let's be honest though it is no where near the same as what I can get in Singapore.  My fiance has travelled and worked extensively in Asia and before Singapore was even in our thoughts if we had Chinese takeaway he would often say he struggled to enjoy it after eating the real thing.  I never really understood that but I definitely do now.  I've had takeaway since I've been back and it was delicious but definitely definitely not as good!  Asides from the food I do not eat much in the way of chocolates, biscuits, desserts and so on in Singapore and being back in the UK I've been more than making up for it, so if nothing else, I need to return so I can get back into better habits!

Wildlife

Not that there is a lot of what could be regarded as large wildlife wandering around but I do miss the wildlife and plants you just do not get in the UK (or at least not naturally).  In particular I miss a bird called an Asian Koel.  Although they are actually incredibly noisy, loud and many people moan about the noise they make, now I'm not hearing them everyday I miss waking up to it.  I do not see monkey's where we live but I do miss knowing that just a short ride from our condo will take me to places where I can see them in the wild without too much difficulty.  Lastly I miss seeing the tiny little lizards running around, blink and you'll miss them but I'm fond of them.

The Mix of the Old and the New

I love the mix of old and new buildings here, particularly the traditional beautifully decorated shop houses.  There are so many lovely examples of these buildings dotted all over the island and I've grown very fond of them.  I'd love to have my own but that is likely to be an unfulfilled dream.  I also love how the many colonial style buildings dotted around sit so comfortably besides the new and modern high rise buildings.  These modern buildings are just as lovely, though totally different and there is some fabulous architecture around.  Any skyline photo of Singapore will usually feature the Central Business District and I'm looking forward to being back there again.  I gather there is a new tapas bar on Boat Quay which needs to be investigated for a start!

The Orderliness and Cleaniness

I like the orderliness and cleaniness of Singapore and I now really notice how different the UK can be from this at times.  Generally everything works well and runs on time in Singapore and can be relied upon, the MRT for example.  Singapore is famed for having fines for pretty much everything and yes it does but the majority of the fines relate to things that are common sense and in reality the majority of people are happy to abide by.  Ultimately it does seem to make for a better living environment on the whole. 

My Routine

I have a definite routine which at the moment is a bit up in the air and I'm missing that.  I'm not working at the moment (not for a lack of trying) and many of my friends ask me what I actually do.  Well firstly I do not spend all day in bed, I could not think of anything worse!  I get up when my fiance leaves for work (usually around 7am) so I'm up and ready to tackle the day.  There are the chores, no matter where you live they still have to be done.  As it is only my fiance and I we don't need live in help (in fact that would feel a bit weird) and don't need a cleaner either.  That's not to say when I'm working up a sweat in the heat I would not happily let someone else do the chores for me, but at the moment there does not seem much point.  The good thing is I can spread these over the week and can now effectively have the weekend's off instead of, as when we lived in the UK trying to enjoy the weekend plus get all the chores done for the week ahead! 

I've spent a lot of time job hunting, which fills a great deal of time.  I'll also take myself off to places that catch my eye, many of them my fiance is not too worried about going to or else if I think he'll enjoy them we go again together.  I have friends that both work and do not so I'll meet the workers for lunch and the others at other times. I also have the advantage of being able to go out with friends on week day evenings without having to worry about getting up for work for the next day. 

Our weekends have a distinct routine usually, Friday evenings are normally spent with a group of friends enjoying a few drinks and food, something I really look forward too.  At the weekend we'll often go somewhere new on our long 'to do' list, or else catch up with other friends.  Even if we are having a quiet weekend it is nice to spend some proper time with my fiance as, like most, he works long hours and is often away with work during the week.  One of my all time favourite things to do on a Saturday evening (if we are not out) is to sit on our balcony (the advantages of all year round good weather) with some wine and music and just enjoy having a chat about everything and anything and speculating about the lives our neighbours both in the condo and the houses nearby live! 

I cannot wait to be back there and enjoying all of these things again.  Despite all this though there is plenty I miss and will miss still about the UK when I return (and indeed things about Singapore that I'm not so in love with) so I think it is only fair that I share my thoughts on that too with you before long.  For the sake of balance if nothing else!

10 March 2011

Jungle in Singapore

Yes I've been busy again with a short piece for another website.  This time I decided to write a piece about a place not necessarily at the top of the average visitor's 'to do' list - MacRitchie Reservoir.  I've written about it previously but I think it is a lovely place to totally escape and well worth a visit if you have the chance to do so.

You can read my piece, Jungle in Singapore here.

06 March 2011

Tanjong Katong Road

I guess I can't really comment definitively as I've only ever lived in this part of Singapore, but I do enjoy living on the east of the island and in the Katong area.  We live off a road called Tanjong Katong Road, the area fascinates me and I thought I'd share some of this with you.

There are a couple of small shopping malls nearby, admittedly apart from a Fair Price, a Watsons and a Shop n' Save it is a some what limited shopping experience, but conversely we are on the doorstep of a Post Office - always handy!  Better than this though there are lots of little independent shops nearby and a variety of places to eat and the area always strikes me as being a real little community.

As well as the supermarket chains, we discovered nearby what appears to be an independent supermarket.  Admittedly it is expensive but it does stock some unexpected items including familiar items from home and a bit more choice on the wine front.  There is a greengrocers selling fresh fruit and vegetables (including the infamous durians) which also comes complete with a large white parrot overseeing I all the transactions.  Just a couple of doors up is a shop selling a variety of birds, it is always a little strange walking past in the evening after it has shut hearing the birds singing.


There are a wide variety of places to eat nearby including Smiths Fish and Chip shop, which I've written about previously, Fairys and proper fish and chips, it is always very busy and seems equally popular with both expats and locals.  Perhaps more traditionally there is the Punggol Nasi Lemak eatery, I have to admit I haven't eaten here but whenever we go by it is always teeming with people waiting to be served.  Definitely a good sign in Singapore and several taxi drivers have also raved about the place as we've driven by it, somewhere I think we need to visit sooner rather than later.  When I first arrived we even had a local Indian takeaway that delivered (perfect) but sadly this has since closed but there are still several Indian food restaurants in the vicinity to choose from.  We just have to go out now to dine but that is a small price to pay.

There are several shops and places I've yet to go too, some I'll probably never venture into like, for example, the landscape gardening and water feature shop.  Some though intrigue me, one that instantly springs to mind is the Tricycle Nite Lounge, not a shop as such but I mean what goes on there? The mind boggles to be honest and I haven't been able to find out, perhaps it's just as well I don't know.  I kind of suspect too that I'll probably never venture there either but it does not stop me wondering what the place is.

At the end of the road we live on is a petrol station which, just as in the UK, is very handy for emergency drinks or ice cream cravings particularly late at night.  The most amusing thing though is the selling tactics of the cashiers.  They regularly try to sell me a variety of things which I really do not want.  This has included amongst other things a DVD player and something that resembled a bulk buy on instant chicken soup.  I always decline but I sort of look forward to seeing what they'll try to sell me next!

There are condo blocks everywhere, building sites are a common sight in Singapore with new condo developments springing up all around and Katong is no exception.  This makes for a challenge in that dirt and dust from these sites seems to get everywhere, I've never swept and washed floors as much as I have since I've been living here!  I'll be honest in that in the time I've been here I can't actually see any changes in the development they are working on opposite our condo.  They just seem to dig over the same piece of land and make a lot of noise doing it but I'm sure something is going on.  Thankfully we also overlook, on the opposite side, a road of houses which we've been told are protected from redevelopment.  They are knocking down some houses beyond this road though, I presume for another development, but it did take me a while to actually notice that half the row of houses had gone and that not all the noise was coming from the development behind us!

Despite all the aspects that are different in a weird way it also feels a little like our previous home near Twickenham.  How?  Well there we lived under the flight path for Heathrow and here from our condo we can see the planes coming into Changi.  Though they are a little further away now so we can't hear them and as an additional bonus we also get to see the sea and ships as well from here.

Katong really feels like home to me and although we will probably have to move from our current residence (our Landlord is looking to sell the flat) I hope we'll stay in the east of the island somewhere nearby.  Maybe I'll be writing something similar about our home in the west at some point though - who knows.  Exploring the local shops and restaurants is definitely, I think, important in really learning about the place you live in, makes the whole experience a lot more rewarding and contributes toward what makes being here fun!
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