My Today is Your Tomorrow Part I

My Day is Your Tomorrow Part I

Sunday, August 25, 2013, 6:30 AM 

After four weeks in Singapore, I still don’t feel completely “home.” I honestly can’t tell you why or what that means exactly. It could be because I still have boxes packed with no sure place to unfurl or that as Westernized as it is, I’m still getting slapped in the face, (or literally nudged by passersby), with the reminders that I’m not “home.” I’m told this feeling is typical and actually will come in waves over the next year. The next year?!

Nothing you read or research can fully prepare you for living outside of your home country the first time, especially if the new country is literally on the other side of the world. So, yes I’m a little green. And, I tried to read it all: blog posts, books, news reports, the omniscient Wikipedia; I got my “Living in Singapore for Dummies” book and everything. Buuuuuuut, as soon as I stepped on that plane, which was really a four-star resort where the stewardesses dressed like they were graduates of the “Miss Asia Beauty and Charm School” while serving you lobster and turning down your bed (yes, bed on the plane), I knew I was in for more than I read. This was not Kansas anymore, (see “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” blog post).

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I literally time-traveled to get here and landed a day earlier than it was back home in Florida. When I called my parents upon arrival and really realized that they were still in yesterday, my whole “this isn’t really that big of a deal. People do this all the time. It’ll be just like moving within the states,” theory jumped off the roof. From there, the differences in how everything and everyone moves throughout the day continue to jolt me back to reality. On the surface, it looks very similar. It’s bright and sunny most of the time with chance thunderstorms that seem like the world is coming to an end for the ten minutes they last. Just like home. There are, surprisingly, a myriad of people (a beautiful mix of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian cultures, but LOTS of expats from everywhere) moving back and forth, coming and going in hurried or sluggish paces. Just like home. A plethora of tourists’ attractions, eateries, cultural activities, and enrichments are at your fingertips. Just – like – home.

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My daughter said, “mama, that’s Poo Poo,” when I cut this “dump”ling open for her.

Then, there’s everything else. They say, “the devil’s in the details.” And, if the devil is feeling like a nomad in a strange land, then the devil is in every ingredient in every dish I’ve eaten, every subway ride or walk I’ve taken, and every transaction I’ve made.

The food, that needs its own blog post (See “Fine Dining & Dirty Diving” coming soon), is anything but typical for me. The sticker shock alone will turn your stomach. But, once you’re passed the fact that you might as well leave them with your dominant hand when you pay, you have to get over the fact that you probably ate something that was alive ten minutes ago (freshness is a plus), but that you may not be certain of what that “something” is. Very few meals are completely identifiable by every ingredient. Even the rice and vegetables are typically cooked and mixed with “something.” When I ask, sometimes they just say, “meat” which I eat sparingly and selectively. Um, oooook. This is why I had some, let’s just say, issues the first two weeks. Thank God for a friend’s referral to “Yakult.”

One of the great differences about living in one of the most expensive cities in the world is that it is very clean and beautiful, in most spaces. Now, there are certainly beautiful landscapes back home, but I literally am surrounded by beauty and cleanliness, most of the time, here. I love opening our curtains every morning and just seeing litter-free greenery all around me. Even the air feels and looks cleaner, fresher. This is less about good home training and more due to the fact that the penalties for making a public mess are near unbearable. The government is less like Big Brother and more like, your crotchety older over-protective grandfather. Just see these mandates below cited from “www.hotelclub.com/blog/singapore-weird-laws,” (I told you I read the blogs):

           “1. It is against the law and a public caning offense to not flush the toilet after      using it. Again, that’s common sense, but in Singapore you might be getting a large fine for that, too, as the police officers randomly check on public checkrooms.

          2. You Litter You Pay-Big Time. A litter law dating from 1968 is the country’s way of keeping clean. Disregard the law, drop trash on the ground in this Southeast Asian city, and you’ll pay $1,000. On top of that you’ll also be forced to do community forced labor. And if you do it three times, you’ll have to wear a “I am a litter lout” sign. Along the same lines, it looks like Singapore has a law saying that relieving yourself in an elevator is particularly forbidden.  

           3. Chewing gum sales forbidden. if you had some garlic and on your way to a meeting or a date, you may be out of luck if you plan on having some chewing gum to get rid of the scent. Apparently Singapore prohibited the sale of gum after authorities have noticed a prolific amount of chewed gum being stuck in subway stations and on cars. As weird as it may sound, Singapore allows you to actually chew gum. Just make sure you stick it at the trash can, otherwise great fines apply.”

Now, I’ve personally seen several just down right nasty and disgusting bathrooms where it looked like they not only forgot to flush, but also forgot to aim. And, I’m talking about the women! So, I can’t vouch for number one, but the other two have me scurrying to pick up anything my daughter mistakenly drops on the ground and sucking on mints instead of the Trident gum I used to love. (See ending in Part II).

 

Singapore Nice

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One thing that has completely fallen below my expectations here in Singapore is the lack of quality customer service. I mean I wasn’t expecting full out red carpet treatment every time I patronized a business, but at these extortionist prices, at least a willingness to please, a smile, and “thank you.” Perhaps a, “Have a nice day,” while they handed you your plastic bag with the smiley face on it filled with 2 for 1 goodies was anticipated. I was definitely expecting efficiency and a desire or at least a readiness to satisfy the customer. But, I’ve gotten better service in the states from the 7-11, which they have here by the dozens.

The first encounter with this was with the cleaning service my husband hired to prepare the condo for me to really clean later. (I told you I could be a touch OCD).  Now, I have never hired a cleaning service before because I actually enjoy cleaning my own space for the most part, but when I first walked into our new home, it looked like a homeless person had been living there. (I recognize that these are clearly trivial “first-world” problems, but indulge me.) He, who arrived in Singapore a month before my daughter and I, had been living like it was the end of days. Trash and papers were strewn hither and yon. Furniture was displaced. Nothing had been wiped, swept, mopped, dusted, CLEANED! And, the hair…well, I told you about that. So, yes, someone had to do the preliminary stage of cleaning.

I took a nap to recover from jet lag with my daughter in her room, which I chose to clean myself, while two young women sounded like they were moving mountains to reface my home and bring it to its supreme level of spotlessness. I woke up ready to smell lemon zest and some hint of pine and see suds and janitorial supplies; if heaven had levels, this image would be one of them for me. I expected to see the “after” picture they show on any one of those HGTV specials. Imagine my surprise and confusion when no such transformation had taken place. It looked nearly the same as it had two hours prior.

Perhaps, they started in the back and they’re working their way forward I thought as I stumbled sleepily through the main hallway to our bedroom and en suite. “Nooooo, they haven’t cleaned in here.”  Hmmm, maybe they were scouring the newly unpacked pots and pans to rid them of traveling dust. It could be contaminated you know. “Noooooo, they haven’t cleaned the kitchen either.”  The condo isn’t that big, so then I thought they must’ve cleaned the wrong one.

I asked the elder of the two what they’d done. With a widespread smile and over-zealous nod she proudly boasted, “We finished now.” Huh?! I took her on a tour and asked if she had cleaned areas as I pointed to the dirt still stained there. Each time, she’d nod profusely, smile wide and say, “Yes!” Huh?!! “Did you wipe the counter?” “Yes!” “Did you sweep up all the hair I still see on the floor?”  “Yes!”

Was there a language or cultural barrier here? I had to do something we’d both understand: the proverbial white glove test. Symbolically, with my bare finger, I scrolled along the counter while locking eyes with her. I held up my grimy finger in the air without losing eye contact. She, still smiling, cut her eyes to the dirt then back at me, then back to the very visible dirt, then back at me, “You want me clean again?” “Yes!”  This exchange happened in every room.

I wanted to think this level of service was an isolated incident, but during my first week here, I experienced multiple interactions like this. From old clumpy nail polish and cold water being used instead of the hot I requested in my pedicure, to being overcharged for the wrong meal, to the grumbling soft pretzel lady actually trying to serve us the one she dropped before scolding us when we cancelled the order! No ma’am! “Where they do that at?” Singapore, and all with a wide smile, gentle nod, and teeth grinding, “Yes!”  

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Saturday, August 1, 2013 4:51 AM

During our transitional process, we traveled quite a few times within the states. (See Planes, Trains, and Auto Deals coming soon.) In one trip, while waiting in the airport, my daughter saw a designated children’s play area and gleefully darted in its direction. Already playing were three children, two girls and one boy, ranging in age from what seemed to be four and nine; all a bit older than my toddler. Two were white and one was Asian.

I only took notice of any of this at all because as soon as my daughter landed on the rubberized play mat and touched the glazed slippery slope, the eldest of the trio jerked at her presence and screeched venomously, “Run! She’s evil!!” They all fled. I leapt towards her. My daughter chased after them because she thought they were playing with her, not operating against her.  Her innocence allowed her to enjoy the “game.” My insight made me want to jump to her rescue. I halted in my steps to assess. Why would this child say that? Why would her onlooking parent not say anything?

It could’ve been because she was the youngest, but at some point someone else was, and yet they were eventually included. It could’ve been that she was the “new kid,” but also at some point…. It could’ve been that she was a girl, but…. It could’ve been that she had three ponytails instead of one. It could’ve been that I was hypersensitive, but… How tiring it is to have to decide whether you’re going to honor or trivialize your feelings.

Part II

We, Black Americans, want so much to be a part of the standard landscape. I remember being entranced by “The Wizard of Oz” as a child. My favorite two parts of the movie were when Dorothy sang the classic, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and when she landed in Munchkin Land and her world was suddenly in color; the irony that there were no people of color in the entire movie notwithstanding. We all loved the story, but longed to see ourselves in it. So, we created the more colorful cultural iconic version in “The Wiz,” which immediately became my favorite.

Fast forward.

On the voyage over, the GPS of the airline tracked our trip and we could see the mapping of our course on our personal screens. I took a picture of the digital map that displayed where we were in the world. By the time we reached Singapore, we had created an arc, a rainbow so to speak, with Africa deep in its center.  It was symbolic of the transition. I knew when I stepped off the plane, things were different in ways I hadn’t expected.

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When I walk around here, I feel invisible. It’s not in the, “If I can’t see you, then you’re not my problem, so…” or “I only see you as a problem that I want to fix or critique, so I’ll say I’m colorblind or conservative” way of America. More in the, “You’re not that different. We all have to get where we’re going. Let’s keep it moving. I have to catch this lift*, train, taxi, bus, or bike,” sort of way.  I’ve gotten everything from the cordial nods and smiles & the congenial chatter in passing to the failure to hold and pass the door when I’m a step behind with my child in arms & the complete brushing, bumping, shoving of shoulders as someone whips by and barely notices I’m standing in their path WITH MY CHILD IN ARMS.

But, I’ve noticed everyone gets the same royal treatment. Singaporeans seem to be no respecter of persons when it comes to their courtesy or callousness; at least such has been my experience in my (extremely) brief time here. (I’m told, however, that there is a very overt discrimination against Indian people in Singapore. But, because we decidedly live in an area called Little India, I have yet to observe it. I’ll address that in another post.)

It’s remarkable to even entertain the idea of not looking through the lens of race.  In America, we, Black Americans, are exposed to the idea of race and its impact on our livelihood very early. We are taught to recognize racism in order to know how to respond to it. We are taught the code of conduct in various environments throughout our entire educational matriculation and maturation. We are taught to walk, speak, & conform in a certain manner as to not alarm, agitate, or instill fear in the status quo. We are taught the rules of assimilation and double standards for our own survival and as an instrument to achieve at least a marginal sense of success.

…….

The timing of this move was impeccable.  In the wake of everything that’s happening in the states right now, my home state especially, I was eager to travel, and certainly more excited about moving than I was initially…at least for a time. The frustration builds so much sometimes that you must have an exodus, lest an explosion. To be free from the constant weight of always having to contextualize life’s circumstances through a racial construct is glorifying, even if it’s just for this honeymoon period, however long that may be.

My daughter has played alongside a surprisingly diverse group of new peers everyday since we’ve arrived in Singapore. So far, I’ve had no need to jump to her rescue.  That’s not to say that Singapore

Over the Rainbowis a perfect, harmonious, ethnically diverse utopia where racism against Africa’s sons and daughters goes to hibernate. I’m not sure whether it is or isn’t just yet; too early to tell. But, history tells me it’s highly unlikely. I’m not naïve enough to believe I won’t experience racism at all here. But, I don’t think it will be all I experience here. We truly are somewhere over the rainbow, or at least not in Kansas anymore.

*A lift is an elevator.  Along with “pram,” it’s a new term I’ve fancied.

One Week In

Friday, August 1, 2013 5:26 am

ImageIt has been exactly one week since we landed in Singapore to begin our new life in our new home. And, it actually almost feels like it is home already.  The initial, “Where am I again? Did we really just do this? What time is it? What freaking day is it? This must be a dream,” feeling has ceased and now I’m in, “Wow, this is amazing! We really just did this! Let’s make this thing real! It’s about to be on with a side of popcorn. Yes, I just said that,” mode. 

 

This first week has been filled with meeting new interesting (used literally and as a euphemism) people, organizing our new home, daily grocery shopping (I haven’t quite adjusted to the difference in product and process), exploring the new neighborhood, entertaining kibibi (the princess),  & jet lag recovery, which is a beast!! But, today, our second shipment of our items from the U.S. arrives, and we get to place our personal touches on our condo.

 

All week, I’ve been preparing for this by shifting the supplied furnishings around, cleaning up all of the hair from the previous tenant that was left in threads in every room, corner, crevice, seam…I swear this hair is my nemesis!!! But, I digress. Today, I’m like a wide-eyed, Upper East Side kid on the morning of Christmas who’s been nothing but nice for at least the last 30 days, because that’s all Santa could possibly remember anyway!!

 

It’s been months of shifting and disorganization, planning and changing plans, which completely rattles someone with a slight touch of OCD and anal-retentive “must have” order. I’m not saying that’s me. I’m just saying it would rattle someone like (me) that.  Home is my sanctuary, my personal resort, my refuge, my “only the select genuine few may enter and you better take your shoes off” place of solace. Once I organize, decorate, and personalize our new home, then the fact that we uprooted ourselves, our young daughter, my business, my plans, my normalcy, and traveled across the world to replant in South Asia will feel completely natural, real, and I’ll finally feel settled. At least, that’s the plan.