Monday, 29 August 2011

Bintan, Indonesia

My passport says Indonesia, but I could really have been anywhere, lost in the polite anonymity of the resort hotel. The ferry ride there is uneventful. I read (The Solitude of Prime Numbers), listen to music (Fleet Foxes, Sigur Ros, Mumford & Sons, St. Germain), stare out of the window at the rain on the water.

It's pouring, and the sky is an unbroken sheet of heavy gray. It is perfect.

We arrive at Tanjung Pinang and disembark. Those of us who need to, wait to pay for our visa on arrival. The woman at the counter is unprepared to make change, and leaves for "5 minutes." She returns 20 minutes later, and leaves again. We are told she will be back in 5 minutes. We wait 15. Five more, we are told. "So, half an hour," I say, eliciting a laugh from the others. But, impatient as we may be, there is no anger. A shrugging acceptance of, "Oh, well. What can one expect?" There is more laughter than anything. The woman returns to a small cheer. We pay up and move to the next bottleneck. Going through immigration takes some time, and some fingerprints. Eventually, though, we are all through.

Outside, we wait for our shuttle. It smells of rain and smoke and sweat and fumes. Not unpleasant, as it turns out. Our shuttle driver arrives and we pile in. I end up at the front, with an unobstructed view of the traffic ahead.

I will never drive in Indonesia. It is cliche to speak of the traffic; but, dear heavens, the traffic. The concept of lanes is negligible, as are safe passing distances. Trucks, cars, SUVs, motorbikes, electric and not-electric bicycles swarm the streets in a cacophony of noise, fumes, and revving engines. Our driver is good, and navigates the melee expertly, but I still clutch my elbows, as there is no seatbelt and no armrest. The trip to the hotel is long, it is pouring, the streets are narrow. it is utterly unlike anything I have ever seen.

And then we arrive at the hotel. A resort, of all things. Also something not within my usual experience. I check in, am given my key, go to my room.

The bed is large. There is porch with chairs. It looks out onto the ocean. It is raining. It is perfect. For two days and one night, I read three more books (The Imperfectionists, Comfort Me with Apples, The Spy in the Coffee Machine: The End of Privacy as We Know It), have a decadent massage, walk on wet sand and rinse off my feet in the ocean and then again in the shower, drink lemon Perrier, sit on the porch, eat noodles with vegetables. I relax.

I check out, and sit on the restaurant deck waiting for the shuttle. The sun is shining, the breeze is cool off the ocean. It is perfect. We return to Tanjung Pinang the same way we came. At one point on the way back, on a narrow, twisting section of roadway, we follow a couple on a motorbike. He drives, she sits behind, legs stretched what looks uncomfortably wide around him, hands planted firmly on her knees. As they spin along the roadway, he reaches back, caresses her forearm, slowly takes her hand, cradles it around his waist, but when he grasps the handlebar again, her hand returns to her knee. He speaks, animated, turning his head, gesturing. Again, he reaches back, caresses, grasps, envelops. Again, she returns. As we pass them, her hand alights back on her knee for the third time. I wonder at their story.

We arrive at the ferry terminal, and wait for our boarding passes. We receive them, and go through immigration. The immigration officer sees my passport, looks at me, smiles, and says, "Obama." I smile back, and agree. "Obama."

We board the ferry, return to Singapore. I unlock the front door, and the door to my room. Unpack my things. Pick up dinner. Read and write emails.

I am, for the moment, home.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Gone and Back

One of the things I always loved about Chicago was returning. From the plane, the city would emerge in the distance as a halo of light, becoming more distinct as buildings and neighborhoods began to make themselves clear in the skyline. There's Wrigley Field, the Sears Tower, the Hancock Building, Lakeview, River North. From the train, the city came through in stages - in the suburbs, on the outskirts, getting to the center, downtown, at the station. I felt most connected to the city when I came back. I'm here. I'm home now.

Singapore does not yet feel like home. I don't quite feel like myself here yet, and I don't feel as though I'm acting quite like myself yet. Despite work, I'm on vacation. I'm pretending at a life. My routines are coming into focus, but haven't yet gelled. It's a half-life. A pretending.

Of the many reasons for leaving this weekend, perhaps the greatest was to be able to come back. To bring my suitcase to the place where I will unpack my paltry belongings and begin again the process of settling in. This weekend was, in part, a celebration - of finishing, of moving forward. A chance to read and sit with my feet in the sand and my eyes on the horizon. But, perhaps most importantly, it was to be a chance to accept that I've truly moved. That the lights of Wrigley won't be greeting me upon return home. That I won't enter my foyer to find my bike anticipating the next ride. That the life I built over the last five years is changed. Is gone.

Back to Singapore. Home.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A few things

* My job is sort-of headquartered in the US, so I'm at currently at work waiting for a conference call. Early for some, late for others, but it works.

* My blog is generally somewhat scattered, but a couple of blogs that I found *really* helpful before arriving were Crystal and Bryan in Singapore and Jeffrey and Flora: Living in Singapore. Both are really well written, have some great photographs, and give a good perspective on being an American expat in Singapore. Good stuff.

* Have been enjoying time out with my colleagues of late. They're a fun group!

* I'm still trying to get hooked up with a cell phone that doesn't seem as though it's from 1994. Wish me luck!

* The Presidential election is this weekend, and it's bizarrely unlike a U.S. election. Such a short campaign period! Such a high turnout expected! So much bickering among candida...oh wait, that part is familiar. There's an interesting story in the Financial Times about the whole thing.

* However, since I can't vote on Saturday I'm going to take the opportunity to head out for a small celebration - my dissertation was formally approved by my university. Yay! All done! Time for a massage. And a beach.


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Bukit Timah

I promise that Singapore is really a dense place with lots of buildings and cultural institutions and people and pavement; however, of late I've just wanted to be outside. To hike, to walk, to see greenery, to be a little bit alone with my scattered and ponderous thoughts. And so today it was to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

According to the National Park's site on the Reserve, Bukit Timah was one of the first nature reserves established in the country, being set up in 1883. It's one of the largest tracks of primary rainforest left in Singapore, and it's chock full of different varieties of plants and trees. It is also *hilly*, and boasts Singapore's highest hill (163.63 m).

It was a great place for a Sunday morning hike.

I arrived at around 10 and left the park at around 12:30. No idea how far I went, but (as the pictures below will show) it was far enough to get incredibly gross. Totally worth it, though! Lots of plants, lots of animals (yes, monkeys, squirrels and tree shrews), lots of meandering. Another place to which I will return.

Steep up

Steep down

Early-ish in the hike


Friday, 19 August 2011


I'm not, in any way, proficient in Singlish.

(Def. Singlish: English-based creole spoken and written colloquially in Singapore. Although English is the lexifier language, Singlish has its unique slang and syntax, which are more pronounced in informal speech. (

However, one phrase that I'm getting more and more accustomed to is "Can" or "Can Can", which means, generally, "Yes!" or "No problem!" I've heard it a lot since getting here. Taxis are cheap, and I've relied upon them somewhat when I've been out late with colleagues, so in the taxi - "Can you get me to [home]?"


"Any idea how I can get to [random grocery store/cultural sight/walking path/ATM]?"


My responses, unfortunately, make me sound like Wayne's World.


I'm sorry, but I can't direct you to where I live, I can't quite understand if you're asking me how long I've been here, if my [nonexistant] husband is here with me, if I know the way to your bus stop, or if I have any particular opinion on the candidates in the upcoming Singaporean presidential election. I CanNOT. I want to - believe me, I want to be able to chat, to have an opinion, to have some idea of where I am and where I'm going, to talk with you and understand what you're saying to me. To CAN.

But, at the moment? I cannot. And there is little else that frustrates me so much.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

A Random Assortment of Thoughts that have Little to do with One Another

* So, I'm quite tall. For a girl, at least, but really in general. It's noticeable here, as I do tend to look over everyone's head, particularly when strap-hanging on the bus. It's convenient in terms of not being claustrophobic, but (as the following picture illustrates...somewhat) not so convenient in terms of other things:
I don't know if it's because people are shorter, because most places have a gentle slope if they slope at all, or if there's some other reason, but the rise on stairs tends to be low. I have long legs and big feet, so this means I either have a rather awkward gait when ascending and descending, or I take the stairs two at a time. A small thing, but interesting to me.

* I take public transit all the time, and all over the place. Both my home and my work are off of bus lines, so I'm generally on the buses as opposed to the trains. I like buses, so this isn't much of a problem. Except for this: You can either not have stop annunciators, or you can put the stop ID number and name on the far side of the stop, or you can have buswrap advertising that makes it quite difficult to see outside. You can't have all three. But...oh...You do have all three. *Sigh* At least it's forcing me to learn the city, and to learn to be accepting about doubling back when I miss a stop...

* Your signs crack me up:

* When I was a kid, one of my favorite chores was taking out the garbage. The routine and simplicity of gathering the trash, putting it in the can, and walking it down to the end of the driveway was calming. The walk, short as it was, was especially nice, as it was a  time to be outside in the dark, looking at the visible stars, thinking about school and boys and friends and whatever things the future would hold.

The last few days I have, indeed, gotten up early to go jogging on the canal path. Even that early, it's busy with other joggers and walkers and cyclists, but we all plug away, moving forward and sweating as the humidity rises. I think of different things now, and there's more history behind the thoughts. Did I make the right choice in coming here? Will I ever feel quite comfortable, and not so much like I'm stumbling through? What does this mean for my future career? What does this mean for my personal life? Do I want to date again, or do I want to stay quite single for a while to figure out all of these other things?

As I listen to my iPod and put one foot in front of the other, I have to think and hope that with each step planted, I'm moving farther into the answering of those questions.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Singapore Botanic Gardens

On my way to run some errands a few days ago, I noticed the gate for the Singapore Botanic Gardens right off my bus route. I made a mental note to check it out on some nice day, and, needing a good wander, this morning decided that today would be a nice day indeed. A quick trip on the bus, and I found myself at the gate...and in desperate need of coffee (a fairly usual state of being for me!). A short walk away, I saw a Starbucks (yes, yes...American hegemony, but I was in need of caffeine) and headed see lots and lots of bikes, and lots and lots of people in spandex. After ordering and receiving my coffee, I screwed up my courage and asked one of the spandex-attired women if it was a cycling club or group, and she said that there are a few cycling groups in the city that get together for rides every Sunday morning and end at the Starbucks. A happy accident for me to find them, as the friendly and not-at-all dismayed-to-find-herself-collared-by-an-American Aussie gave me the names of a few cycle shops, and told me where to look for the different cycling groups. Coffee and bikes - a good way to start the morning!

Post-coffee, I headed back to the gardens.

Oh. My.

Lovely. Lovelylovelylovely. A beautiful place for a wander, and even some time where I felt more alone than I have since I came (a rare and delightful feeling in such a dense place). It's quite large, and has a wide variety of walks, gardens, water features, and other amenities. The pictures below don't do it full justice, but believe me when I say it's a place to which I will return.

The entry gate

A walk under roots

Girl on bike (which I hope will be representative of me soon!)

Some more local fauna - so many turtles around here!

Swan Lake

It was, in short, a lovely day for a lovely stroll in a lovely place. Thorough enjoyment!


...or, "If I don't get over this insomnia thing, I may have to take up jogging again."

There's a PCN (Park Connector Network) path that runs along the canal behind my apartment. Because I don't seem to be over the jet lag issue (or because I just have problems with sleeping generally), I've been having fairly bad insomnia of late. This means, in short, that I've been up at 4:30/5 AM for the last several days, and I'm beginning to fear that my bumbling around in the dark trying to keep quiet may be disturbing my roommate. This, combined with the fact that it was cloudy and (relatively - this is Singapore, after all) cool this morning, meant that I was out for a walk at around 6:45 this morning. Some pics of the path and the flora surrounding it are shown below.

The bridge that leads across the canal and into my building-area

I love that they apologize for the inconvenience of the trail ending

Sensitive plants! I love watching the leaves close up after you stroke them

This picture does not do this plant justice. It was gorgeous

It's not the most exciting walk in the world, but on a cloudy Saturday morning way too early, it was both packed with walkers, joggers, and the occasional cyclist, and yet calming and lovely. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and if I'm up at the crack of dawn again tomorrow, I think I'll lace up the jogging shoes, throw on the gross work-out clothes, and head out for an early AM trot.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Catching up, Starting over

So, it's been nearly two weeks since I last posted. Oops... Given that I wanted this to be a record of my move for *me* as much as anything, that's not a great track record. Oh well - will try again!

Much has happened since I last posted. I've started work and, oh-so-thankfully, settled (or at least, am settling) into my apartment. Life here is So. Different. from anything I experienced in the States. Ever. For one thing, it is always hot and always humid. I walk outside and immediately start to sweat. My hair never looks reasonable for more than 10 minutes at a time. I may never wear a white t-shirt again. Makeup is useless, as it just slides off my face and sits in a puddle in my collarbones, looking at me as if to say, "Really? You bothered?"

Surprisingly, in some ways I love this. I can't and won't ever look good, so I'm just having to learn to move through the world as the awkward American, who towers over everyone and takes up more than her fair share of room. Not that I don't duck and pull myself in as much as I reasonably can, because I do. But there's a limit to how far that will get me, and so I just have to accept that for as long as I am here, I will be visible in all my towering, heavy, sweaty glory. It's disconcerting, freeing, scary, and tremendously exciting, all rolled up into a big ball of discount antiperspirant.

So that's part the first.

Part the second is this: I have a roommate. Actually, I have two roommates. I just haven't met one of them yet. They're guys. The one I have met is really nice - a North American (clue!), dryly funny, considerate, quiet and tidy. I think he will be a good roommate. I'm quite close to work, close to shopping, a walking and biking path, several restaurants, and several "restaurants" (cross between hawker centers and food courts). It's a good, affordable space in an unaffordable city, and I'm grateful to have it. But...I have roommates, people. I'm in my early-to-mid-30's. With roommates. I've lived alone for ten of the last eleven years. This is a change. I don't know if I'm ready for this. Wish me luck.

Part the third:

Today, I sing the praises of IKEA. I had never been to an IKEA prior to moving here. Have, in fact, been unimpressed with IKEA's actual environmental impact (yes, their primary contractors are certified as sustainable, etc., but as to the companies that the primary contractors contract with...but I digress) and, as a result, have been reluctant to buy anything from them unless it's through a thrift store. But, ladies and gents, I am NOT A ROCK. And I am, after purchasing my airline ticket, a new computer, housing for the week+ that it took me to find a place to live for good (or at least for now), and a deposit and first month's rent? A tiny bit broke.

But guess what I couldn't find room in my overstuffed and overweight suitcase to bring with me? Sheets. More than one towel. A pillow. A drying rack for my clothes (which will, to be happily fair, be washed in the in-unit washer. Huzzah!). Hangers. All those little things that make a house (or a bedroom with a single bed, a bookshelf, and more closet space all to myself than I've had in a bedroom in my life) a home. However, IKEA and its affordable, stylish-if-not-sustainable goods are a mere bus ride away. And so, today, I heap laud upon IKEA, as I have pillows! Sheets! Towels! Clean clothing! All for a price I can afford. Thanks, guys. Hopefully I won't be seeing too much more of you, but you sure did make me feel better today. Handshakes and milkshakes all around!

Part the fourth:

I am loving my job. A lot. I feel blessed, grateful, thankful, lucky, and all of those wonderful things. I don't want to talk about it too much here, but suffice it to say that I think I made a good decision, and I can't wait to work more with my colleagues. Good, smart, funny, interesting people all around.

Thanks, you guys. You rock.

Part the fifth:

I miss my bike. A lot. I will be procuring a new one at the end of the month (i.e., when I start getting paid), but biking here will be quite different from biking before. Wish me luck. And safety.

And with that update, I will take my leave. Cheers!

Today's guess as to where I'm from: New Zealand

Monday, 1 August 2011


I've now made it through my first few days, including my first day at work. I think that work is going to be really good - there are some interesting projects going on, and the people seem quite fascinating! It's a diverse group with diverse interests, which I'm very glad of.

But, much to my chagrin, I'm realizing that I'm...spoiled. Chicago has spoiled me.

Part the first: Apartment hunting
My apartment in Chicago was huge, well-maintained, in a great location, with the best neighbors ever. Rent was right around $1,000/month. In Singapore? The equivalent of US$1,000/month will get me...a bedroom in a shared flat with a shared bathroom. No guarantee that it will be close to transit, no closet that could double as a bedroom, no likelihood of ceiling fans. I thought I was prepared for the reality of looking for a place, but I was wrong. It will work, somehow or other, but please cross fingers hard for me!

Part the second: Cycling
I've only seen a handful of cyclists since my arrival, and most have fallen into the categories of either spandex warriors or sidewalk riders. I can't blame either faction, as the city is just not designed for on-street cycling, at least in the areas I've been (limited, granted). I cycled in, about, and all over Chicago, and I don't want to give up that part of myself; however, I'm going to have to think through the realities of *how* to cycle in Singapore, and I may have to accept that it will have a more limited part in my life here. This is sad for me, as cycling has become an ingrained part of my identity. I will make it work somehow, but it may not be to the extent to which I'm accustomed.


However, with those few things aside, I'm a happy camper. I'm, a) employed (!), b) exploring a part of the world that's new to me, c) releasing a lot of stress and anxiety, and d) Done With The Dissertation (the joy over that last part is going to last, I'm guessing, for at least another three months).