Adventures of a Wocket

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You think you’ve seen it all…

It’s been a whole month now since this wocket made the big move to the pocket-sized country and against all odds – most of which have no place in this blog – I’m still here. I would say this is an achievement. It may have been only one short month but for me, it’s been the longest month in many hundreds of months of my life. Time moves differently here for me. Perhaps because I work Wednesday to Sunday which breaks up the familiar nine to five routine I was so used to following. Or maybe it’s because the sun rises at seven and sets at seven every day without much in the way of variation. It is mostly likely because the majority of people I know and talk to live so far away that to them I live in opposite land. The routines I used to have of talking to people across the world have been turned on their head so drastically that it has resulted in a form of isolation. Oh no, that’s terrible! I hear you cry. Well it is and isn’t.

When major upheavals occur in your life it usually results in two things, stress and loss. Stress because things that you once had a firm grasp of now seem entirely out of your control and loss because no matter how good your intentions, people drift away, lose touch. It is true what they say about knowing who your friends are at a time like this. It has been an eye-opening experience for me in that regard and there’s still a great deal that I have to learn. When it comes to friendships across the globe though, all you can do is try your best through all the change, make the effort when it’s required especially when it’s pointed out to you that you’re not, to keep trying and hope it’s enough.

But, I digress!

For those who don’t already know and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it just about a thousand times now, I am an English teacher. I would be the first one to tell you that this is something I never expected to happen. It goes hand in hand with leaving sunny England. Yet, here I am. If I can be honest with you, I disliked learning English as a child. I still remember the lessons in school of hating my handwriting, of not understanding grammar and generally being bored out of my then tiny little mind. As far as I was concerned at the grand old age of four or five, I already knew everything I needed to know about English. All I wanted to do was write stories and I could do that quite happily without any help from my teachers. Or so I thought. I ended up taking English right up to A level, ironically and never really enjoyed the studying of it very much. The older I got though, the more I realised how little I actually knew about the language itself. When I started learning Mandarin, I developed a new appreciation for English and for people who learn English as a second language.

Now, I am a teacher of English, my primary school teacher Mrs Jones would be thrilled I think but my college professor who disliked me immensely because I argued against some of her extremely feminist views of the language, would be aghast in horror.

All in all though, I have learned more in this long month teaching English than I ever thought I would and my appreciation for the art of writing has only grown. It is difficult for a lot of children to pen an original story and sadly here in this pocket-sized country, encouraging and nurturing imagination in story telling isn’t at the forefront of educators’ minds. Being technically proficient is.

This blog however, isn’t going to be the place to discuss or compare the differences in our education systems, for each system has its benefits and drawbacks and I am merely an observer of these differences. I can see the failings in my own country’s methods just as I can see the stress and pressure to succeed that is placed upon children at increasingly younger ages over here. In this pocket-sized country, anything below 90% is just not good enough. I can sit here and judge quite easily but the approach to education in this country as seemingly harsh as it may be, works on a lot of levels, on many levels which the education in the UK is falling down on. We could very likely learn a lot from each other but here is not the place, now is not the time.

Let’s move on shall we?

Being British means being used to rain. Let me tell you though, you haven’t experienced rain until you’ve been caught in a tropical rain storm. Thunderstorms are so loud that you truly believe the world is coming to an end.  Rain falls from the sky as a wall of water. Streets and walkways turn to streams. You think you’ve experienced flooding? Even in spite of all their excellent methods of controlling the flow of water, it’s still sometimes too much. It feels, when it’s really bad, like the sea is trying to reclaim the land and if it wasn’t for ingenuity of these people to utilise modern technologies to combat it, it very well would.

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This is a picture of the aqueduct near to where I live. Normally there is a tiny stream of water coming from the sea no bigger than a meter in width and no deeper than my ankle. This is what it looked like after one rain storm that lasted all of an hour. It may not seem all that dramatic from where you’re sitting. It really is one of those things you need to experience for yourself to understand it. Same with the humidity and the heat. All I can do is paint you a picture. I encourage you to get out and live it. There is no ‘fine rain’ or ‘spitting’ here. 😉

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Now this tiny country is no Australia in terms of wildlife but having come from a country where the most we have to worry about are certain types of ants or one poisonous snake (that I have never personally encountered), I’m going to say this, this pocket-sized country has little buggers that like to nom you while you sleep!

First of all there are the mosquitos! They leave a lovely red mark that looks like a bruise with a raised lump the size of a penny wherever they bite you which itches like crazy and that isn’t even the malaria carrying ones. They only come out at night… apparently. Excuse me while I barricade up the house forever.

The local resident here that very likely out numbers the people by two to one is the long lamented cockroach. Now I’m not in many ways squeamish or averse to insects. I find them quite interesting. But when a cockroach decides to run under your feet while your casually slurping on your strawberry smoothie before your class starts, you scream, you run. That is unless you’re Singaporean and then out comes the bug spray and tissue and the chase begins. When you get them as frequently as you do here, you become numb to them. I’m not in that group yet and cockroaches I discovered have a habit of appearing out of nowhere. Didn’t anybody tell them it was rude to sneak up on a wocket?

On the scale of big scary insects, even cockroaches and mosquitoes are fairly tame. Nothing compared to the giant spider that I saw just chilling out on the walkway to work. I do believe its body was the length of my forefinger so you can just imagine the legs. I do wish I’d gotten a picture of him though he was pretty impressive. What? I like spiders, so sue me! 😀

Getting away from the creepy crawlies, I move onto things everyone everywhere will recognise. Public transport and healthcare.

‘Oh no, I missed my train this is a nightmare, the next one is four minutes away, what am I going to do?!’ Said no British person, ever.

That is an example of what people are like here. Distances are considered far if they’re more than a ten minute walk. If you just miss your train and the next one is five minutes away, well you might as well throw in the towel on the day because it couldn’t get much worse. It makes me laugh. Coming from a place where if your train was in twenty minutes you’d consider yourself lucky and if you’d somehow managed to get a discount on your ticket? It’s like winning the sodding lottery. Here, trains are every five minutes, six minutes maximum, they’re air conditioned, well maintained, fast and most of all cheap, is it any wonder people here think walking fifteen minutes to the nearest mall is far (that is quite far for a mall to be at any given location here)? Buses are on a similar scale, not quite as reliable but still nothing compared to the shambles that is called public transport in the UK.

It’s more expensive to own and run a car in this tiny country than it is to travel by public transport whereas it is the opposite in the UK. I’d be the first to admit, I’d choose car over public transport back in England every time and for me there’s just something wrong with that picture. I’m not saying public transport in England is all bad. There are some good reliable routes, frequent buses and there are some good train services, depending on where you live. It simply doesn’t compare though. The MRT system here is fairly similar to the tube/transport system in London and I find myself comfortable to use it any time of the day or night. It’s safe, bright, clean and well designed, with the majority of MRT stations built underground and did I mention it’s safe?

Continuing along the same line of public services, I went to the doctor’s today. It wasn’t for anything serious but I don’t recall ever going to my GP at home and coming away satisfied with the service. Some people do and hats off to you, you’re lucky. I only went there to make an appointment for tomorrow, not really expecting to get a reasonable time. Oh how wrong was I.

Now let me first mention that GPs are based usually within shopping malls here. In this particular mall, there’s about three all in a row. You don’t have to register, or be assigned a particular GP, nor do you have to go to the same Dr. You can walk into any of these establishments and ask to be seen to and if they can’t see you that day you can make an appointment. They’re open until 9 pm too. I know, if only, right?

Today, I didn’t get to make an appointment. I was booked in and seen to within minutes of arriving and to my surprise, my issue was taken seriously. I was out with medicine direct from the Dr within fifteen minutes of arriving and advice and with instructions to make another appointment two weeks from now. I felt… cared for.

Yes, the UK has its’ NHS and there’s a great deal of good about the NHS. I am and will always be a supporter but as someone who has never felt comfortable going to the doctor, even at the expense of my health, there is something to be said for instant, friendly and satisfying service at a relatively cheap cost.

There you have it, so ends a month of living in this pocket-sized country with all its’ nuances and culture. There have been ups and downs and a sometimes near desperate need to return home to the familiar, cooler climate of England, but seriously? It’s just too damned cold over there. 🙂

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Moving to a pocket sized country!

 

I uhmm’d and ahh’d about starting a blog. I’ve been here just over a week now and thought, why not. It’s not everyday you up and leave your home country to go live and work else where.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Five years ago if anyone had asked me whether I’d ever leave sunny England, or even move out of the North West of England, my response would have been a resounding ‘hell no!’ England is my home, will always be my childhood and my family, that will never change but even as a smaller Wocket I wanted to go on an adventure!

My adventures of course involved magical chairs or lions or even fairy dust. Every story I read had some hero or heroine in the story, who was sent away from their home on a great and often scary adventure. They would meet new people and make friends and even enemies, they would conquer their greatest fears and become stronger and braver than before and quite often they would be escaping their hard life or rebelling against a comfortable one.

What I learnt as I grew into an older and wiser wocket was that adventures aren’t just handed out to you like in the stories, though wouldn’t that be so much simpler? Here you must take this ring to such a place or you must make sure to return home before this time and so on. Real life has only one absolute and the adventure is everything that comes before. What I learned was that adventure was whatever you wanted it to be.

I have done a lot of escaping in my life, from my childhood, from real life, from people, I was always that socially awkward, quiet girl in the corner who would just nod and maybe smile at you if you asked her whether or not she was okay. Making friends wasn’t easy, being confident seemed a trait I wasn’t born with, oh how I wished I could be like the confident kids! One without all these hangups, insecurities, doubts, anxieties, one with opportunities and a large support network.

I wanted this so badly that I decided to get it myself, life wasn’t giving and had no sign of giving me any favours so I worked hard, made myself go to university (even though I quite hated it for the most part, I’ve never felt more out of place than I did then), made myself work every menial job so I could have that independence and little did I know that that is the start of most adventures.

Now I’ll spare you the whole growing up spiel, let’s just skip to the present. About a month ago, I randomly, out of the blue, applied for a teaching job in Singapore that had been posted on the TEFL website. I had completed my TEFL training a year before and had also tried being a teacher 10 years earlier (this did not go well, but that is for another day). It was a plan B for me. I had a good job working in Pharmaceuticals, I had friends (who’d have thought it!) many of whom lived overseas and I was reasonably comfortable in my small wocket existence. I applied thinking nothing of it, places like Singapore well, they only want PGCE qualified teachers, they want the best, or so I thought. A week later came the email and a few days after that was the phone interview, not four days following on from that Thursday morning while I was sat in my friend’s house after a night of wine and a good catch up sipping my tea, an email fell into my inbox.

‘We’d like to offer you the job.’

Wow!

I couldn’t quite believe it. They wanted me to go to Singapore and teach English to children. They wanted me! My friends were happy for me and just as surprised. I had been saying for a couple of years I wanted to go abroad maybe travel, see the world and so on, I don’t think anyone, not even me, really believed it would actually happen.

My plan B rapidly became my plan A and I had a decision to make.

Now when it comes to decisions, I am a pain in the arse! I can’t make them I don’t like deciding but nobody else was or could make this decision for me. Did I accept or turn them down? What did I want the rest of my life to be? That I stayed home where it was safe and comfortable or that I tried.

On Christmas Eve (it already sounds like an adventure doesn’t it :)), I handed in my notice at work and that was that. The dice were cast, the adventure had begun.

Now the following three weeks that I had to pack up my stuff, sell my car, move out of my flat, handover my job, say goodbye to my friends, give away any stuff I couldn’t keep went by in a flash, a blur of static noise and colour. I don’t think I could pinpoint any one day that I didn’t have full of packing and worry and more packing. Maybe my farewell party but even that involved mattress moving.

Now when your whole life is changing like that, I don’t know how other people react but for me it was pressure, I had one chance to get everything done and fly out. I work well under pressure but as far as feeling the moment, that didn’t happen. I felt nothing absolutely nothing, just focused and tired and irritated most of the time. I wasn’t excited, I didn’t have time to get excited, nor was I nervous, if I’d felt nervous even just a little bit, I quite possibly would have thrown in the towel and said ‘right I’m not going’.

No doubt people thought this was odd, most people are fairly emotional creatures and can express themselves quite easily. Emotions aren’t easy for me as when I do let my walls down and do let them out, they’re quite intense, simply because I either feel very deeply about everything (this isn’t healthy I’m sure) or I’m just not used to feeling them, it’s very likely a mixture of both. In this instance practicality took over. There would be time for emotions later.

The day came to fly and for the briefest of moments I felt completely sick to my stomach while waiting in that airport. It was really happening. Everything had gone relatively smoothly up to that point. Once I passed that security check point there was no going back. It really didn’t help that my flight was delayed by two and a half hours but if there had ever been a point to back out that would have been it.

Flying both fascinates and terrifies me. If I think too long about how high that very large, very heavy, very full metal contraption is in the sky, there would be hysterics. Instead I always focus on the shiny technology in the seat in front of me and how plane food has improved on high class airlines like Emirates and Singapore airlines (the latter being my favourite for such a long journey).

My adventure to the pocket sized country had begun!!

In the stories there’s always someone they meet on their way to their destination and sometimes they never show up in the book again but they give something to that protagonist of the story good or bad and I can honestly say this happened to me. I sat next to a guy on the plane and very randomly we got chatting and it turned out he was a teacher  too. Going to Vietnam from the UK. He had more experience than me and was encouraging and helped me relax in those first seven hours of my journey. Normally I never talk to anyone if I can help it but we did and I was so glad of it.

I wasn’t the only person who had done this was doing this. I wasn’t alone.

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The Arrival.

For those who have been or who will go to Singapore the first thing you notice when you step outside Changi airport is that wall of heat. It’s not the heat you get when you’re in a desert (I know, I’ve been in one) nor is it the sticky, muggy heat of British summer time. It’s just a constant, perpetual, moist, windy heat. It surrounds you like water and occasionally wind gives just a little reprieve but even that is warm. I quickly learned that the 30 plus degree celsius wasn’t too much of a problem (apart from making me want to nap at various times of the day) it was that humidity. It sucks the life out of you, makes you unable to sleep, unable to relax and yet feel like you’re suffering from a hangover and not even a really bad one, just that constant ache and weariness.

That was my first week. Thankfully, I had training which lasted for four days in a lovely air conditioned office which by the end of it, ironically was pretty chilly to me. Throughout these four days there were moments of panic, excitement, nerves and massive bouts of anxiety. I couldn’t do this, I didn’t want to be HOT anymore and what I wouldn’t give for some fresh air that was at least 20 degrees below the outside temperature.

Heat exhaustion is an awful thing. By the third day of my training I wanted to scream, cry and at the very least jump on a plane back home. I was irritable and tired and grumpy and weepy. All I could think was; what have I done.

I completed my training and seemingly made two new friends in the process. All of us new teachers to this company and all of us from the UK. We encouraged each other, laughed and parted ways on the fourth day to begin our jobs. We’ll all have different experiences but we’ll be able to meet and share them and laugh and then talk about something else!!

It’s comforting for me who was always too self conscious to make new friends and is convinced most people dislike me on first meeting to have new people want to keep in touch, who want to know me a little more. I have a few close friends so I know I’m not completely unlikeable but you never really let go of that insecurity, no matter how often your friends tell you you’re being silly. 🙂

My training was over, my first day was the fifth day. My time was up, I was a teacher, am a teacher. I was told I only had one class on my first day. This one class turned into four catch up classes, all small but still daunting to me who was very much out of practise talking in front of others in that way. I also hate the sound of my own voice which is counter productive to teaching.

All these things ceased to matter. I was here and parents were bringing their children in to let me teach them. First lesson was like pulling teeth. No it wasn’t rowdy or even lots of children. It was one child who WOULD NOT TALK!! It was the longest hour and a half of my life to that point and I’m pretty certain I didn’t teach him anything!

Saturday was quite simply put a train wreck. Once again I wanted to cry and flee the country. However the day ended and my friend met me with cupcake for my first day and things seemed alright again. My whole life didn’t have to be about the job, it wasn’t the end of the world. I’m still learning and nobody expected me to be perfect or even very good in my first term never mind my first day.

My second day was much better. Mostly because the children did respond, even the young ones and I felt like I was getting more of a grasp of where they were up to. There’s nothing worse than picking up where somebody else left off, in any job.

This was when the rain came. Beautiful, torrential, tropical, cooling rain.

At the moment I feel like I’ve adjusted somewhat to the heat. It’s almost more comfortable than an air conditioned office. I even choose to sit in the outside part of starbucks (free wifi) with just the fans than in the air conditioned building. I didn’t think adjustment was ever going to happen. I still have moments though when it gets really warm. Those days really make me irritable but at least I have a schedule and a routine now to give me a sense of belonging.

Living with a Singaporean family also gives you an advantage when settling into a new place. They’re generally very welcoming and extremely enthusiastic about food as a people. It’s everywhere, and I mean everywhere! I do still have to keep asking my friend what everything is when we eat together but on the whole the food here is very nice. Chinese food back in the UK will likely never be able to match up now. Nor will the public transport if we’re comparing.

For a pocket sized country it has a lot to offer a wocket. It’s safe to go out at night, transport is regular and fairly cheap (again by comparison) and there is a lot that I still have yet to explore. It’s not like any city I’ve lived in or visited in England, for one it’s green, everywhere! Quite a contrast from the glass and concrete of Manchester, Liverpool and inner London. I’m sure the inner business district will be different but where I am, it’s green and tropical and quite pleasant.

At the moment, at the end of my first very full week in Singapore, technically at the start of my weekend, I feel hopeful that; in spite of a few hangups I have, such as having the odd person moving away from me on the train and completely changing my diet and lifestyle, I could live here for at least the coming year.

Beyond that, well this is just the start of this wocket’s adventures. 🙂

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