Home sweet home

By day…

and by night.

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Christmas time, mistletoe and lots of wine

No matter how much effort Orchard Rd puts into its lighting displays (above), it’s kind of hard to wind down into the Christmas spirit when you’ve just started a new job, you’re about ten hours away from your family and you have no money for presents.

However, today, my friend Lifang invited me to watch her perform Christmas carols in sign language in Hougang mall as part of the Deaf Society of Singapore. If anything’s going to quash the grinch then that will. We even got little candy canes!

I’ll upload video as soon as I can, but here’s a still teaser in the meantime. Lifang’s the one on the right. I know right? Amazing.

Welcome to loontown! The best beach in Asia.

Last weekend, I was introduced to the cray cray world of Sentosa.

I’d heard all about the crowds, posers and money-sapping bars so had been avoiding the place, but when a friend asked me to join her for “sun, beach and a cocktail”, at Tanjong Beach Club, I caved.

I find myself craving the beach here in Singapore. I needed a taste of home.

We don’t have palm trees and loungers and Abercrombie and Fitch models and DJs on our beaches in New Zealand, but at least Sentosa has sea air and a horizon. I felt a wave of calm wash over me as I sat next to a Kiwi chick and indulged in the very gormet Kiwi treat of hokey pokey icecream (yes they serve it! At a ridonculous $5 a scoop).

Because I love doing things like sitting down eating ice cream, I did not then strip down to my togs (togs = Kiwi for swimsuit) and join st the AC and F models in the pool (yes, they were there!). I did have a bit of a rave however. See below.

Yes, Sentosa is like Hugh Hefner and Walt Disney’s fantasies come true, and yes, that makes me feel a bit funny, but it’s the closest I have come to a beach in Singapore. So I’ll be back…

…if not to bare my body in a bikini, then at least to have another one of these expensive puppies: (it’s a raspberry mojito and it is amaze).

Pholicious

Flat rice noodles. Rare beef. Mint, coriander, chili, mint, coriander, chili.

Pho, you warm the cockles of my soul. I’m yours.

Bargain hunting


I’m feeling a bit lost having just returned to the pristine streets of Singapore after a week of haggling and dodging motos in Vietnam.  My well-honed bargaining skills serve no purpose when almost everything comes with a non-negotiable price tag.

Because all the sun and fun has left me with a bout of writer’s block, I thought I would turn this post into a bullet-pointed advice column. A “how to” of haggling everywhere outside of the Lion City.

Some of these points come from my own haggling experience. Others from watching the blunders of pig-headed tourists.

Point one: Find out the exchange rate. Memorise it. This will prevent embarrassing arguments over the price of a bottle of water that might sound pricey at 10,000 Dong but actually costs less than 70c.

Point two: Find out how much you should be paying for a ride on the back of a motorcycle or a bowl of Pho. You can do this by visiting a public park and waiting for a Vietnamese student to come over and ask to practice their English with you. During the exchange, ask them to shed a little light on reasonable prices for essential items, transport, pedicures etc.

Point three: Learn (from people in the park or Youtube) how to say “how much is it” and “that’s too expensive” and how to count from 1 to at least 10 in the native language. “Hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye” also help. Remember you are a guest in the country, and the locals are your hosts, not servants. Courtesies apply.

Point four: Decide on whether or not you really want something and how much you are prepared to pay before you enter negotiations. If you don’t want something, say so. “No thank you”. Walk away. Actually it helps if you know how to say “no, thank you”, too.

Point five: When you do want something, ask the price of it up-front. Unless it is something with a fixed price tag, like a piece of clothing in a shop (not market) or a menu item, it’s likely you will be quoted about 50 per cent above the RRP. However, if you speak the local language, you’ll probably get a fair price. Say the bag of apples is $10, but you only want to pay $5. Try to bring the price down by offering a little less than you are prepared to pay, maybe $4. Meet half-way somewhere closer to the price you are happy with. If the vendor won’t budge, try someone else, as it’s likely there will be a row of eight or so apple vendors. If you find out $10 is actually the going rate, walk away with your tail between your legs.

Point six: Don’t bargain for fun. If the seller comes down to your price, you kind of have to take it. If you don’t, you will insult the vendor and make yourself, and all other tourists, look like greedy idiots.

Point seven: Don’t flash all your cash around. Take small amounts out of your wallet and slip them in your jean or shirt pocket. Use this supply to pay for small ticket items like food, clothes or motorbike rides.

Point eight: Don’t buy expensive things in front of someone you then want to bargain with. My motorbike driver saw me buy a phrase book from a little girl. I paid a bit too much, he saw it, and then hiked up the motorbike fare.

Point nine: The same applies when giving money to beggars when a whole lot of their friends are watching. Be careful, if they get a whiff of all your hundreds of thousands of Dongs, you’ll be mauled.

Point ten: Smile. It’s the universal sign for peace, happiness and “please don’t screw me over”.

MYphone

I have an unfortunate habit of losing, smashing and drowning pocket-sized pieces of technology. Last year I went through about four cellphones, and I’m already on to my second since arriving in Singapore. Unsure what happened to the first but it was last seen at East Coast Park on Sunday November 6, 2011.

Because of my history, I have been reluctant to allow myself to so much as look at expensive mobile technology like iPhones. Fortunately, because I am a foreigner on a WHP and therefore not eligible for a contract with Singtel, I have been able to stop myself from paying $800 just to become one with the iPhone addicts on the MRT.

But, as a freelancer, it’s become clear I need to have mobile access to the internet. So I decided to replace my old clunker with a smart phone. Not an iPhone, but something simple, with internet capabilities and perhaps a few cheesy apps.

And now I am now hopelessly and completely infatuated with a piece of pocket-sized technology.

Behold, MyPhone:

Almost as wide as it is tall, with a rooster alarm tone and touch screen smaller than my palm, my itsy bitsy Sony Ericsson Mini charms me more and more each day.

I’ve joined the Singapore shuffle as I make my way to the MRT with my eyes glued to my GPS even though I know very well where I’m going, fingers sweeping across the touch-screen as I scroll through the latest status updates from my Facebook friends. I have the Guardian, Al Jazeera and WordPress in the palm of my hand. I can reply to emails from the front steps of my apartment, Tweet from a taxi. Oh yes, my mini “Xperia” by Sony Ericsson has opened MyEyes, MyOptions and MyWorld. And the best thing is, it only set me back $200.

I’d let you have a turn, but I’m not ready to let go of it yet. Not even for a second. It’s MyPhone.

When night falls

The days fly by in Singapore, but the nights invite you to pause, wipe your brow and if opera’s not your thing, then toss a dancing man a coin for his talents.

Dancing King

Feastival time

Today was a public holiday, which doesn’t really mean much when you are a freelancer, other than that there are more people on the MRT and you can’t go to the bank. But I tried to make the most of Diwali, or Deepavali, one of my favourite festivals of any culture or religion in the world. So fragrant, so bright, so crazy. After braving the mosh pit that was the festival market in Little India to buy myself some traditional sweets, savouries and bejewelled stuffed elephants in the weekend, I returned to join in the Deepavali hangover this afternoon.

I found swarms of lathargic lads talking on cellphones, and lighting the last of the country’s supply of fire crackers, while torrential rain did its best to wash away the last of the sweeties, confetti and spices that had been pressed into the asphalt. The lights are out. But thankfully the dosai vendors are still pumping.

Eh lah

I thought it was about time that I wrote another blog post. Actually, my mum thought it was time that I wrote another blog post. I don’t know if anyone else knows that this blog exists.

The reason I haven’t splashed my new, wonderfully exotic life on here in the past month, or, wait a moment, TWO months, is because I have been fabulously busy.

Dabbling in copywriting, dabbling in journalism, dabbling in a bit of blogging for our flat’s food blog and then I’m furiously trying to improve my score on Dance Central.

Oh, and I went to a silent meditation retreat on an island for ten days, as documented in this grainy pic of me (in pink pedal pushers, purchased from an MRT station) and my new Latvian friend Zanete under a tree.

Yep, that’s a story in itself. You can read about it in ANZA (Australian and New Zealand Association) magazine next month. On another page in the magazine you can Kieran Nash’s lyrical masterpiece, ‘first impressions of the big city by the small town boy’. It has a much better headline of course. Roll on November 1 when it hits letterboxes.

I’m a month into Mandarin lessons. I can say I feel hot, tired, cold and fat. I can say the coffee cup is big. And I can say that I am not an Australian, not an American and not a Brit. All very useful.

I’ve fulfilled a life-long dream and bought some red “auntie” plastic slip on shoes to wear around the house. They have raised bumps on the upper sole, which make for a great foot massage, or “massase” as we like to say to reference the girls we (Kieran and I) met in KL earlier this month. It was my first time in Malaysia’s boisterous capital and I loved every minute, other than the moment during which I gulped down a few spoonfuls of an indescribably revolting, cold, meaty, noodly sludge at a backstreet hawker. It was more than counteracted by the best Mee Goreng of my life at a wee place called Instant Restaurant run by a very chirpy lady named Ping. I felt I made the most of my 24 hours in the city. (See? Yummeh).

And despite the other 50 or so days in Singapore dripping off the calendar like beads of sweat, I feel I have made the most of almost every moment. I experienced my first air-conditioning-induced cold after spending a few days in an office that had cranked the aircon down to what felt like about 16 degrees, I have eaten my weight twice over in dumplings and basked in the glory of being asked for directions by a local. Despite my “localisation”, I am proud to say I have pulled out the NZ patriotism in the weekends, covering my skin in All Black’s inspired eyeliner-tattoos and swilling beers in support of the ABs in the Rugby World Cup. Couldn’t usually care less about rugby, but this is the most momentous sporting event for my country since 1987, eh. Or should that be, lah.

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