Monday, October 13, 2008

Singapore: Sick, Swim and Singlish

Ok, so I have been back from tropical hot and rainy Singapore for nearly a week now but not written. I have an entirely plausible excuse - sickness. Specifically, tonsilitis, snot, sore throat, fever. I caught the first leg of the tonsilitis on the long long flight to Singapore. We landed on a lovely hot hot evening to be greeted by a smiling R. And on the way home we could hear the F1 race cars roaring and see the bright lights of the Singapore circuit, if only from a distance. Holiday here we were.

None of the pictures or words from his parents adequately prepared us for how madly in love we fell on sight of our delectable nephew, P. He was about ready to drop off for a night of slumber but not before we got in a hug and fair number of kisses. And I only felt a tad guilty for passing on my germs - he did already have a cold and cough. V left with both his brothers and friends to watch Friday night practice and I stayed home with T and a plate of idlis, catching up on gossip and my breath after that endless flight.

By the next morning my tonsils were swollen to a monsterous size and I had a fever to match so off to the kind Chinese doctor who gave me some serious antibiotics to ingest. Needless to say I stayed home the next few days, begging for pity, whining like a child and having every whim catered to while I watched the adorable baby play and entertain us and himself. V enjoyed each night of the F1 with his brothers and then we'd all spend the remainder of the night staying up late and chatting and laughing. By Tuesday I was a bit better and ventured out for an afternoon with a friend but I was so sapped of energy that I slouched all through it and was not good company at all.

Right. So before this falls into an endless ramble on my holiday, let me focus on the highlights. In my week in Singapore despite all illness I learnt the two key words that qualify as all defining Singlish. Can and Cannot. So any experience/ event/ question/ answer can be answered / defined with these two words. Here is how:

1. F1: I didn't see any except on R&T's TV from the confines of a very comfortable leather sofa while sipping on warm Diet Coke and explaining the rules to T. V, on the other hand, had some majorly kick-ass tickets thanks to both his brothers, saw all the 3 days, bought a load of memorabilia and took pictures and videos. The whole of Singapore fairly glowed from the F1. Even in the aftermath. But for me, F1 was Cannot and for V it was Can. I hope in another year I Can.

2. Transport: Of all kinds. We took the MRT only a couple of times primarily because it was just easier and fairly cheap to take cabs many a time. The MRT is quick, clean and efficient and such a contrast from London that it takes some getting used to. I guess volume of people is a factor but the fact remains that beside a disciplined people the system itself is designed in a more sensible manner. Some of the tips that London could so easily use were they not so enamoured by carpeting and cloth is the idea of plastic row seating. Easy to clean and neat to look at, it left a lot more standing space for people than the indecisive seating that the Tube provides. The cabs were an experience as well. Priced for a wider audience you could book one of these from your home on an automated system or from your mobile or queue at a taxi stand to wait your turn. And each cab driver wanted to have a conversation: Going to? Lunch/ dinner? Like Singapore? etc. etc. etc. All in perfect English, with a number of cans / cannots thrown into their responses: Orchard Street Can? Lunch/ dinner Can? Singapore Can? etc. etc. etc.

3. Shopping: Having been to Singapore previously there were no attractions left to see. And being sick I was not motivated enough to go and check out the aquarium (previously unseen by moi). It's such a tiny city/ state that there are limits to its activities. The best known activity is the most materialistic one - shopping. I can go either ways - some days I can love shopping and spend hours and serious cash indulging - others I need to just go in get what I need and leave or even better indulge in some focused internet browsing. But in Singapore I was determined to let my inner shopaholicness out to play. The first few days we had no time or inclination what with illness, F1 and an adorable baby to keep us busy. Then V got into the groove and systematically attacked his list in a few afternoons. I followed him listlessly, stopping for regular breaks in the lovely coffee shops and just looking. Taking measure is what V describes it as, this looking, this gathering by eye of the various things available, this mental totting up of size, shape, colour, cost and what will safele fit in my suitcase. And then of course the mental tussle of what I need vs what I want vs what I NEEEED and where I was going to put it when I got back to my shoebox London home. In the end I shopped 2 days before I left, 3 pairs of sandals (purportedly for next summer), 1 pair of shoes (for work. Hah!) and 4 handbags (because can one ever have enough of those?) - all to add to my collection, my collec-zione, my ridiculous wasteful life of bags. What else did I buy? Oh yes, a small oddly shaped pillow for my hallway chair (and now neither of us much like either colour or shape), chopsticks, a chinese-y notebook, a lovely red character necklace, a change purse and two little oddly shaped dishes. I also bought a load of gifts to be given and sent out - colourful and so different from what I have access to in London. So for a shopping fix, Singapore clearly Can.

4. Food: I am such a planner. I scoured the internet, blogs and friends minds to get a shortlist of where we should go. But in the end we didn't eat out nearly as much as we could, in the main due to my tonsils. But each place we ate at was good, some of them great. The food fresh and spiced and varied and affordable. I'm not putting up my reccomendations just yet - they do deserve a post. But in short Singapore food Can.

5. Weather: The weather was tropical. Hot and humid followed by great thundering bursts of rain. And the hot was lovely, it made my skin and bones feeel warm and loved. But we needed and lived in and out of air conditioning to avoid melting into puddles of sweat. Of course my sore throat and cold thought it was all a bad joke and reared up in protest every time it was subjected to changing climes. On our very last day there I was finally fit and fine enough to wander out to the gigantic pool in R&T's development. And after taking the Baby for his first swim in which he squealed with delight - a sound I will not forget for a time to come - I swam 20 laps in the warm water under a beating sun - a joy which far surpassed the divided lane, covered, heated pool to which we are used. The weather in Singapore, especially compared to the indecisive English weather, Can Can Can.

6. Friends and other Indians: Singapore, much like London, has a large Indian population. In London they are more widespread, the pockets of various statehoods lining the suburbs, Wembley for the Gujaratis, Southall for the Sardarjis. In Singapore they seem all to be professionals, young to middle aged, determined to stay for a while, try out this life but go back eventually. It's unlike here where generations of Indians seem to have settled into the fabric of life and running businesses and marrying into the British ranks, besides the newer immigrants who remain unsure about whether we are here or there. We met a few friends, some from previous work places, others from B-school and yet others from London but each meeting was fleeting and interrupted by my unhelpful coughing. I planned to but eventually had to bow out of coffee and an early meal with marathon girl. I hope to be better host than guest when she comes to London. Singapore is close enough to India to be ideal as a first step out. Being so chock a block full of Indians it would be easy to have a large friend circle and full easy life. So for R&T Singapore Can. For V&I being so settled in London I am not so sure. As a holiday place though Singapore surely Can.

7. Miscellaneous: Went to Clark Quay one night. Still utterly boring, quite plastic. The air conditioning units when veiwed from behind brought on childish giggles. Heaving with wannabes and tourists. I Cannot. Had a haircut at the hands of Colin, T's hairdresser. In a fit of daring I asked him to chop it off. Before I could change my mind he had and now I have a short unmanageable mop. It looked good when he styled it. Now it just looks like a bad birds nest that could easily win the Turner prize. So haircut, Cannot. The good life is easily to be had in Singapore. Large houses in serious secure developments with pools, gyms. Full time paid help, everything delivered or within a short short distance. Cabs and the MRT to whiz around the city. Divine weather, with an umbrella. So one Can, but sadly for a multitude of personal inner battles I think I Cannot.

8. The Baby: The highlight and joy of our trip was this beautiful child, son of R&T. At 8 months old P is just the most interesting thing to watch. He wanted to be carried and paid attention to. And as all genius babies his age, he would go straight for the new toy in a pile of his own toys and we would clap. His favourite toy was the crinkling of fresh newspaper. And then a small basketball that V bought him. He loved V and smiled at him, went to him willingly and they played endlessly - uncle and nephew seriously bonding. I have this whole series of pictures of them, of P sitting patiently in V's lap and then both of them playing with his toys, them crawling around and then V lying on the floor and our man P climbing up, standing balanced precariously against his supine uncle. He had many a first as babies of his age are want to do at that age, all in the week we were there. Memorably, he climbed/ crawled up a set of 4 stairs, refusing any support from his father as he did so. He went for his first swim/ dip/ paddle in the pool and loved it. He's at an eminently huggable and kissable age and we took full advantage of it. He gurgled and giggled, played endless games of peek-a-boo and let me get to the plug point quicker than you. We could never imagine what he'd be like before he arrived, but now that he's here he is so much a part of our family that it is unimaginable what it was like without him in it. I'm so glad that V and I had this week to spend with all 3 of them, R&T&P, who gently, lovingly and without doubt are the fabric of our family that bind us in. Our family, Can.

9. Overall: Beside the illness it was a brilliant holiday. The perfect kind where there are no museums and cultural things to distract from all the rest and relaxation. I will go back - for the aquarium and the F1, I hope. The weather was kind, the food was tasty, the days were long and languid, the shopping was indulgent, the friends were fun, the family and THE BABY were the perfect thing for these tired London souls. I came back to a severe tonsilitis relapse (I don't think long distance air travel and I agree on much) and am laid up at home indefinitely till I stop being infectious, stop coughing like a 90 year old, stop dripping rivers of snot through my nose and stop buring up (almost there). But the memories of Singapore will carry me through. Can la.


  1. Being ill while on vacation truly sucks... but me thinks the past few weeks was flu time everywhere.

    You didn't see the F1? :O :O :O

    Now this post makes me wonder how you manage (not) so many vacations??

  2. Anonymous3:56 AM

    Oh no sad to hear you're still unwell. Let me know if you need me to do anything, like go shopping for you. Am serious. Am sure V must be busy and tired. Have a bit of time on my hands now!

  3. Anonymous6:31 AM

    Seriously your last sentence had me laughing out loud. Did you try any of the local food? I hopped over from some random blog and I dont kow whether you are veggan or not,,but the seafood is awesome there. Or what about roti prata and hokkien mee, and nasi lemak and nasi goreng?

    Singapore has changed quite a bit, I was shocked at how many Indians there are now, when I was growing up, one could only hear tamil on the streets, but during my last visit , I heard hindi, Marathi and other countless dialects.

    Ahh your post brought back warm memories. I like Singapore..all my friends, and my family are there BUT I dont think I could live there anymore.It feels too crowded to me now.

  4. Next time, try KL also can or not? Canlah...Jane Sunshine will welcome you and take you around!

  5. Anonymous11:33 AM

    reading such long post after 2 days of durga puja cannot!!! read 1 thru 5...6 and above tomorrow...40in2006

  6. Singapore is nice.. Have been to both London and Singapore, still I cant decide which one is better. I am addicted to both of them. Being a foodie, I love Singapore for its good local Veg chinese food which is very very different from what we get here.. I love London for all the yummy desserts, cakes, pastries, scones and hot coffee(even though I dont drink coffee when I am in India)..
    Hope you feel better..

  7. I still can't believe you used the term 'divine' for the weather here! Out here we're used to cursing it all the time! Case of grass being greener I guess :)
    Get well soon lah!

  8. Anonymous10:29 PM

    hi chachi!

    your blog was soooooper! thanx for writing about me!
    i miss you both 2! haven't felt like climbing the stairs at the play area since that day. but i really do wanna splash in the pool again! so when are you going to take me there again?
    lots of hugs,
    The Baby

  9. J: I couldnt agree more. Sickness on vacation sucks. And I do not take that many vacations!!!

    MG: Thank you thank you but V is being attentive boy.

    Asaan: Yes to local food. See pt.4and wait for the food post. If you think Singapore is crowded you wouldn't like London much!!

    Jane: Thanks. Will keep the offer in mind. When are you coming to London?

    40in2006: Good luck with the long post reading - that is all I am about - seeing how much I can irritate my readers with verbose verbosity!

    Soulmate: I think for a holiday & food I'd pick Singapore and to live in stick with my beloved London. But hey, that's just me...

    Shub: The grass is ALWAYS greener my dear! In this grey dripping rain your downpours and humidity seem like heaven. Want to exchange?

    The BABY: Your chachi misses you. Your chacha misses you. We can't wait to see you next year when you come to London!