I have written about this before, maintaining a blog, even if it is definitely rewarding on a personal level, can easily turn into a real job and everyday life often 'gets in the way'. So it requires a certain amount of persistence and sincere dedication to balance it all. When my husband announced we were moving to Singapore last yearr, I simply lost what it takes. Between a full time job and a stressful life in central London with a child, I was already struggling to fit in my blogging and instagram hobbies. If I was to remain remotely sane during this move to the other side of the planet, I needed to give myself a break . And so, with great regret, I put the blog on hold to free up time and space of mind for our family to transition into Asia the least chaotic way possible (we did transition but chaos obviously ended up inviting itself in the process of course). It has now been close to 9 months and just like a pregnancy the time feels right to throw myself into blogging again.
Fashion is still a considerable part of my life and always will be. But with all the changes we have gone through in less than a year it feels rather anecdotal right now and it's hard for me not to share our experience of moving to Singapore as a European family (the best and the worst) instead, at least initially. No doubt I will want to share my style obsessions again soon.
In the meantime, I hope you will find the upcoming series of posts entertaining or at least worth a read. But if you are just not that into the life experiences of others, not planning any trips to Asia or just want to remain a fashion purist until the end, stop reading now and maybe head over to my Instagram account @cover_mum instead where I post my daily outfits. I would be the last person to blame you.
Singapore our new home - First impressions
It has now been 4 months since we arrived in Singapore yet I have absolutely no idea where those months have disappeared off to. Having always worked full time until my arrival here, I have often felt that work can act as a time vacuum. The week days go by in a blink and the weekends even faster. But here the feeling that time vanishes all to quickly is just taken to a whole new level. Most people would argue this is in large part because there are no seasons here. Everyday is virtually the same: very hot with regular showers (downpours during rainy seasons actually) which completely transforms your perception of where you are in the year. But I guess, like with any expatriation, there is also the adjustment factor which necessarily takes time. Discovering the new city you live in and understanding how your daily life is going to work compared to how you managed your family life before:
- Food shopping (I am French: surprised this is where I would start?): Haven't we all been watching at least one (much more if you're a true masochist like me) documentary about how the way we raise and kill (butcher) animals that are meant for our own consumption is a disgrace and a real animal genocide? And haven't we all (I would like to think so), as a result, changed our habits to try and minimise our very deadly, eco unfriendly impact on nature? Such as buying organic, free range, farm raised, no pesticide etc (at least when we are privileged enough to be able to spend more and perhaps eat less). I am certainly guilty of that (a bit hypocritical I know as surely the answer has to be to stop eating meat but I simply can't give it up. Anyway, that's not the point). Being more responsible in the way you do your shopping certainly has gotten much easier in Europe and with the rare exception of desperate, empty fridge Sunday nights, I have definitely gone into the habit of checking labels much more thoroughly and buying products that come from a responsible and safe source. Well, what's the plan when you live on an island city that is inundated with cheap (Chinese) products which don't even have expiry dates or country of origin labels? The answer is that you struggle... Don't get me wrong, you can find organic and all the rest here in Singapore but a) it's probably 5 times more expensive than in Europe and b) it's a bit of an adventure. In the first few weeks I arrived here, I started doing research about organic shops, went to three of them and all three of them were half empty as if raided just before a nuclear bomb alert... I guess at least we have started reducing our family carbon footprint by considerably limiting our consumption of meat and fish altogether...
- Singapore is the safest city on the planet: If you have done even a tiny bit of research about Singapore, no doubt you will have read that it's the most tranquil and peaceful place to live in. No theft, no crime. That may well be true compared to most western or asian cities, but that's not to say it does not ever happen. Case in point: my handbag got stolen the first evening I spent in Singapore. The explanation that was given by the police was that I was sitting in an area where there were no surveillance cameras. This never happened to me during my 10 years in London so I am definitely keeping an eye on those dark corners now. And if you actually start doing some digging around you, you will also find out that theft does happen: aircon companies that service your ventilation system apparently. It's just that people don't really talk about it.
- Transport: Before I even set foot in Singapore, people would tell me all those great stories about how taxis were so cheap, efficient and everywhere in Singapore. So much so I would never have to experience public transport. Let's take those different myths in turn, shall we: 1) Taxis are cheap: they're definitely much less expensive than a ride in a black cab across London, that's for sure but to be honest London taxis are probably the most expensive in the galaxy. The truth is Singapore taxis are just cheaper because the city is much smaller and the rides much shorter... 2) Taxis are efficient: if you enjoy the 'stop and go' kind of driving then you'll love riding taxis here. But if it makes you a tad nauseous when the brakes are mistaken with a simple gear change, then welcome to hell (guess what sort of person I am...) 3) taxis are everywhere: everywhere provided first you don't hail them on the streets (you would probably have to wait until complete dehydration under the heat if you were hoping to be able to get a ride by waving from the pavement) and second if you don't need one when it's raining. Singapore taxis are just like cats you are trying to soak in water, the second a drop of water falls from the sky they simply vanish and you're just stuck there outside your shopping mall with all those storage boxes you carelessly bought from Muji waiting endlessly for a Messiah driver.
- Payment systems: What's up with that? I know this sounds totally trivial (and boring) but I have never come across such a complex system of payments with so many different payment terminals: Pay Way, Nets, Master, Visa (not to mention apple pay which at least I know how to use)... it's all pretty incomprehensible and I have simply given up trying to understand: I have taken the habit of handing out my card and waiting patiently for the cashier to try it on three different systems before my payment can eventually be taken.
- ATMs: Relatedly, forget the fact that you can just walk up to any ATM and get some cash without thinking twice about it. Here it all depends on the bank you have an account with. I did not have a choice with mine (British bank) and it's a nightmare. Have had to take a raincheck on cash payments countless of times because even though you could not live more centrally than we do, the closest ATM which is kind enough to allow me to withdraw money is 20 mins away (under crazy heat). For someone who was used to get cash from Waitrose or Tesco round the corner (and who also never plans in advance), that's a big adjustment.
- Cigarettes, ecigarettes and nicotine substitutes: This will likely be of very remote interest to many but it does tell a bit of a story about the Singaporean society. I quit smoking 6 years ago and yet I am still on nicotine substitutes (don't ask) while my husband, who could never quit, started smoking Iqos cigarettes (neither a cigarette nor an ecigarette, it's a smoking 'thing' that is supposed to be 90% less harmful than actual cigarettes). Well... let's just say it's harder for me to get (be authorised is probably a better description actually) nicotine substitutes than to buy a pack of smokes from the drugstore down the street: substituted are exclusively sold in pharmacies and provided you can speak to an actual pharmacist (often away on the day you need your substitutes the most) who is then going to take your ID number and ask you a number of embarrassing questions about your bad habits (truly a very pleasant experience). And it's all 6 times more expensive than in the UK... As for my husband, well he just had to quit quitting smoking because ecigarettes, as well as fancy new fake cigarettes such as Iqos, are simply banned in Singapore. Needless to say this has been our worst adjustment.
- New concepts: Ever heard of 'condos'? 'shophouses'? 'HDBs'? 'helpers' and 'aunties' (not your mother's sister obviously)? 'MRT'? Neither had I before I arrived here but today, they have totally taken over my London lexicon. You don't live in a residence here but in a condo(minium) (most expats do) which basically means a bloc of modern flats which share a pool, gym, porters, with walk-in lifts etc. and within your flat, inside the bomb shelter (yes they got a bit nervous after 9/11) lives your helper, your new shadow that you will come to love and hate at the same time (but more on that later). Alternatively, you can choose to live in a quirky, more traditional (non detached) house, ie a shophouse. And if your means are limited, you will most likely reside in an HDB, in other words a council house. Also you don't take the tube in Singapore, the metro, the underground or subway, here you travel through the MRT... But my favourite Singlish expression (eg local adaptation of the lingua britannica) is probably 'can' (which is sort of pronounced 'ken', as in Barbie and her mate) and which is used instead of yes / of course / quite so / correct / will do / not sure but mostly don't want to say no: 'Is it easy to find organic food here in Singapore? - Can'.
Now I appreciate this all sounds pretty critical (I am French after all) but the annoying stuff obviously makes for better anecdotes and don't be put off as there is definitely a lot to like about Singapore, much more than there is to be irritated about to be honest:
- It's hot (and humid): A number of people find this rather unpleasant about Singapore but having lived 10 years in a city where you will be wearing thermals 75% of the time and summer dresses 0.5% of the time, this is a massive improvement for me. Not least because I was born and raised in sunny South of France where summer nights are exclusively enjoyed al fresco. Heat does come at a cost for a fashion addict like me (I miss my ankle boots and leather jackets) but that's largely compensated by the fact that it takes 15 seconds for my daughter to get dressed (literally), TV and ipad times have all been superseded by pool games, barbecues have become a weekly family thing rather than a yearly event. Even the rain and the thunderstorms are enjoyable when you miss those atmospheric moments with a cup of tea...
- Life is so easy with kids: Obviously there is the whole pool effect which means the second they come home from school, kids finish their days with friends at the pool, and that's probably what life should be all about when you're growing up. Such a change compared to those dark, cold afternoons where going out was not an option and Pixar my only friend. But beyond fun and games, the family routine is considerably improved here because house chores just cease to exist altogether. Of course there is a big debate here about having in house help (and we're still not quite sure we can ever get used to having someone living in our home and running our house) but boy, does this change your life! Feels like you get both the best of your twenties and your midlife: going out for drinks on a rooftop terrace on a whim and coming back to a clean, tidy house with a happy sleeping child in bed... Not having to ever shout again 'you've been wearing this tee-shirt for 5 mins how the f. did you manage to ruin it already?? Do you think laundry is my f. hobby?!'. Here you simply don't ever have to worry about dirty clothes. Mums' heaven...
- Best food eva': What a choice for a gourmet like myself. From fancy omakase to French fine dining and trendy fusion eateries, there's no denying the range and sheer number of top rated restaurants is insane in Singapore. But what I definitely enjoy the most here are the hawker centres, casual food courts dotted around the city where you eat the absolute best of local cuisine for a few dollars: dumplings bien sur (my absolute favourite), pumpkin or carrot rice cakes, pan fried noodles, sweet and sour soups, chilli crabs... Whatever your dream asian food is you will find it here, and cooked to perfection through generations. No doubt I will be posting about my favourite food stalls at some point on this blog. It would be a crime not to share this and for this reason only you should definitely come and visit Singapore.
- Eats meets West: Asia lite, Asia for beginners etc is often how Singapore is described to those moving here. What this means in practice is that beyond the slight glitches you might encounter as a Western citizen, you won't feel disoriented here. The city has been built to ensure the expatriate community feels cozy: good roads, effective public transport network, close amenities, high spec properties, clean streets, recognisable brands (I have never seen so many Klorane products in my life than in Singapore pharmacies). But scratch that very polished and easy to live in surface, you will find traces of an intriguing culture you know very little about: get lost in the streets of Chinatown, wander around the peranakan shophouses of the East Coast, eat a kway teow like the locals, be disgusted at the sight (or more accurately smell) of a Durian, go shopping at midnight in the endless alleys of the Mustafa centre... There are myriads of things that can make you forget your occidental life if you wish to.
- A truly cosmopolitan city: One of the deeply rooted dimensions I appreciated most about London was its unique cosmopolitan nature and tolerance to different cultures. At work, my colleagues were from the US, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Poland, even Malta (and France of course). At home, my friends were from Australia, Eritrea, Taiwan, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Italy (and France of course). Nobody is an 'alien in London' because the very nature of a Londoner is to be born outside of London. This all kind of came crashing down when the UK decided the EU sucked and it was better off on its 'Great' Britain island sadly (and one of the reasons we felt the time had come for us to move on) but it's hard to leave behind such a healthy 'melting pot'. And coming to Singapore, I was worried we might not find the same mix of cultures. But the reality is that this city is possibly even more international than London: the people we have befriended to date all come from very different backgrounds, Korea, Japan, Norway, Ethiopia, Brazil, Israel (and France of course). And I am relieved to see that my London born daughter will continue to be exposed to so many different nationalities. However, it is true that getting close to actual 'locals' or Chinese immigrants is much harder. And while the expat community is very welcoming and shows true solidarity, the bridges between temporary residents (such as us) and the Singapore citizens or PRs (permanent residents, another local neologism) are pretty rare unfortunately.
- Best place to explore Asia: This is unarguably the best perk of living in Singapore: the holiday choices... From Singapore, Asia is your oyster. From magical culture trips in Angkor, to forsaken unspoilt Philippines beaches, to Balinese yoga retreats, to scuba diving in Indonesia, to the best family friendly trips in the tiny islands of Malaysia, to winter skiing in Japan, to tea plantations exploration in Sri Lanka, anything is possible and accessible from Singapore within a few hours only and hardly any time difference. Our holiday planning this year simply resembles a luxury travel agency catalogue: Bali in February, Vietnam in May, Langkawi in June, Java and Malaysia over the summer... The trick is to have enough holidays during the year to be able to discover all those incredible places. It does also give you a certain perspective on what is worth visiting and I will be sharing some of that on Bali and Vietnam soon because having done long haul trips before I know how annoying it can be when you spend a fortune on a trip and it turns out to be very different from what you expected.
Et voila... Believe me this is actually a condensed account of my first impressions of Singapore. But then again, it took me nine months to bring it to life. Writing this post has definitely reopened a precious door where I have always enjoyed escaping and I shall not wait this long again until my next post. I hope you will be coming back to check it out.