Adventures of a Wocket

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An open letter to Katie Hopkins

J BARLOW

Dear Katie,

Earlier today it came to my attention that you had tweeted your opinions about depression – the biggest mental health issue that faces this country, bar your ignorance.

Many believe that the opinions you spout are nothing more than a cry for attention much like when a dog defecates for the attention of its owner, which ironically is a form of separation anxiety.

When I read your tweets I was not surprised that you had decided to shit on the floor in the hopes of a reaction – Something you have done many times and will probably continue to do until you fade away into obscurity.
Unfortunately this is not the Big Brother house so you cannot be voted out and we cannot turn you down as you did to Lord Alan Sugar – because, like a bad smell you return to fill the nose of society with…

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Health and Prosperity

The Chinese New Year is upon us once more! I have been in Singapore almost two full years and my has it been a rollercoaster.

I have had three jobs, lived in three very different areas and I’m planning to likely be here another few years. My reasons revolve mostly cost of living and how much I have to pay out in comparison to the UK. This is the first time since graduating from University, for example, that I have been able to afford to go back to studying. With an online Masters degree; I pay UK tuition fees but work around my full time job here. It just wouldn’t be feasible in the UK to do that sadly. I suppose being a smaller country, things like taxes and cost of living can be kept down. I am aware of the irony that Singapore is ranked 8th in the world for cost of living, two above the UK.

A lot of it is down to the salary I get paid. While not expat living standards, it is a much higher pay than most locals can expect to achieve. It equates to around a 30,000 pa a year job in the UK. Quite average. Here I’m probably somewhere in the middle. Taxes are also lower here, well they are for me. If you’re from America you unfortunately have to pay taxes both at home and in Singapore.

This however, is not the point of this Wocket’s entry today. The year of the goat/sheep, which means if 2013 and 2014 brought you luck then this year your luck will continue. They always make a big deal out of Chinese New Year here in Singapore. I honestly loved receiving red packets with money when I attended a friend’s family gathering last year. The decorations are wonderfully done as well. The only downside for non Chinese is that everything closes over Chinese New Year, so while we don’t work, we also can’t do much of anything else either.

This year however, I have planned a trip to Bali!! There shall be pictures and a blog upon my return.

If I’m honest, this post is a more reflective one. The start of my second year in the ‘red dot’ and while the novelty of Singapore wears off for some, I find myself strangely at home here. My first year was one of turmoil and change but this year, with my job and living in a quiet place that I can feel at home in; Singapore has wormed its way into my heart. It’s probably there to stay.

There are a great many things to dislike about Singapore. The lack of manners in general, the way nobody looks where they’re going, the undercurrent of prejudice that bubbles quietly beneath the surface, the taxi drivers that don’t stop for you when you have lots of luggage, even though you’d happily put it in the boot yourself. The groundhog day feel of every single day can also wear thin. I have said this before but I miss seasons. Not so much that it bothers me but enough that I relish thunderstorms and rain and breezes!

I have found a lot to be thankful and glad of in Singapore. I have a Dr here who actually listens to what I say and tries to help. Maybe I’m just lucky? I have suffered with IBS most of my adult life and for the past year after making some changes in my diet and having a Dr who gave good advice beyond, here’s some fibre drink, take this… o_o I rarely suffer bouts of crippling pain and discomfort. It is such a relief.

I have discovered the delights of Yong Tau Foo, a healthier hawker food, thanks to a friend talking me into trying it. As we all know, I am not the bravest when it comes to new foods.

I have more motivation to keep active and travel here, otherwise everyday would quite literally blend into the next in a blur of moments. It already affects my short term memory more than I care to admit. Hobbies such as learning the piano, visiting CSC on Sundays when I have a day off, learning to swim (it’s about bloody time), going to the gym, they all help break up the monotone. It’s also important to have these outside interests from work in order to make friends. That has been something I have struggled with in my time here. I have to say however, that even though my social circle is smaller here than in the UK, it is fulfilling and enough. In between all of the above and studying for my Masters, there’s not much time left.

Living in Singapore I have found, is about achieving that balance between work and personal life. Your personal life can never be what it was in the UK or the US or Europe or anywhere else that is more liberal and whose culture revolves a great deal around drinking alcohol. That is simply not the culture of the majority here. There are plenty of bars and clubs, sure, if you have money to burn. For most, life doesn’t centre around the Friday/Saturday night drink-fest though. It can be boring and seem isolating if you’re used to doing more and seeing more people. For me, I relished the time visiting the UK at Christmas. It meant more, I made the most of the time with my friends and I appreciated the culture a whole lot more than before I moved out this way. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the other side of 30 now that I am more content to just go to the cinema, go for coffee with a couple of close friends and only drink on special occasions? Maybe I just had to change how I was before I could fit into the culture of Singapore? For the record, I definitely had to change a lot! I’m sure if I left and returned to the UK, I would have the reverse problem. 🙂

Travel is also easier from a base like Singapore. I am determined these next few years to make the most of this location. February is Bali. I already visited Australia last June (that deserves a separate blog post). I am definitely going to the North west next time. I visited Phuket in Thailand last year too.  Below are some pictures!

Yes that is a basket of wooden penises. 😀 The guy kindly explained to us that in Thailand it is a symbol of Palad Khik. Which represents the Hindu God Shiva. The symbol was brought to Thailand by the Khmer from Cambodia and originally came from India and is also a symbol of fertility. The Thai people are quite superstitious and talismans such as these are considered important.

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September is USA and then home again for Christmas. These trips would not have been possible living in the UK on the wage that I am still on. I am grateful for that. I am not a big traveller. I am admittedly quite lazy when it comes to travel and I like luxury and hotels and jacuzzis, which all usually exist outside of my price range ^_^ but living in Singapore is an opportunity I cannot squander. I plan to visit Japan, New Zealand and China and perhaps India in the years I am proposing to live here. Moving has opened many doors that I could not have afforded nor even considered and Singapore, for me, is a solid, stable base to which to travel from and return back home to.

This year is also Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence. There’ll be celebrations and events and hopefully I’ll be able to take more pictures to show that Singaporeans know how to have a good time. Even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. 😉

Also this happened last year 😀

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So for now, I wish you Health and Prosperity for the year to come. May the year of the goat be a good one for you ^_^

How do you write Happy Chinese New Year in Chinese?

Traditional Chinese: 恭禧發財; Simplified: 恭禧发财.

(Pinyin: Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese)).

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First thoughts

Tiff talks

With the minimal amount of fanfare possible, I would like to present my shiny, new (and sadly rather empty) blog. It will take over the function of all my facebook posts about social issues with a nicer layout and less guilt on my part for tl;dr posts flooding your newsfeed.

That being said, here’s my first ‘real’ post. While it made its debut on facebook a while ago, it’s one I hold dear. It was written in response to someone commenting on my sudden interest in feminism. (The poor guy probably wasn’t too happy about all these feminist articles flooding his newsfeed.) I then sat down- in the middle of  my A-level exam revision- to type up a post for him, which I think rather nicely sums up my opinion on feminism.

“Why are you so anti-man? Not all men are like that.”

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Things You Should Know About Introverts

This is very true. I relate to all of it.

Playfully Tacky

From MeetTheIntroverts.com From MeetTheIntroverts.com 1) We need to recharge alone.
This right here is the cusp of the entire introvert v. extrovert debate (if there is one, anyway) – Introverts need to be alone to recharge. We tend to get completely worn out by socializing. This is basically what it means to be an introvert.

2) We don’t hate being around people, but we probably hate crowds.
I love being with people, but if you drop me into a large crowd I instantly feel like I’m alone and invisible. I try to avoid situations where I feel that way, so I may decline your open invitation to some random event. It doesn’t mean I don’t like to be around you, it just means I like to have more control over my surroundings.

3) We don’t mind silence.
I can sit beside you in silence and not think we are having a bad…

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I’m Printing A Book For Charity.

Kris Carter

Several years ago, I wrote and drew some Transformers fan-comics (with a little help from various other people) that I posted up on the Allspark.com Transformers fan-website. They were very well received, and actually contributed to me gaining work on colouring the official Transformers comics a few years later.

Recently I found out that Sol Fire, one of the forum members who’s fan-character I used in the books, had taken his own life. Coupled with my own experience with mental health disorders, it seemed like a good way to help a charity and also show a mark of respect.

To this end, I’ve decided to collect together the four stories I created, and publish them in a trade paperback, which I will then sell online and at some UK conventions. Once the printing costs are all met, any further takings will all go to The Samaritans.

The book itself…

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Pu Luo Chung (蒲 罗 中) to Singapura. (Island at the End to Lion City)

You’d probably think that for such a tiny island, 710 km² to be exact, there wouldn’t be much to talk about. You would be wrong. Now I have met quite a few people over here ranging from expats to locals and people just passing through and everyone has an opinion on Singapore. There’s dislike, resignation, apathy, enjoyment, pride as you would expect from any country’s inhabitants and visitors. For me, I like history and Singapore’s past is rich and filled with toils and troubles. This on its own doesn’t really set the country apart from other countries but it is something to be proud of. In my humble Wocket opinion of course.

There have been written records about this tiny island since the 3rd century and since then it has been invaded, settled on, been a base for pirates, been fought over by warring nations, invaded again, turned into a trading center, had its settlement burnt down by Portuguese raiders and disappeared into obscurity. This was all before 1819, when Sir Raffles established a British trading post on the island and modern Singapore was founded.

There are a number of historical sites to read up more about this if you want to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_history_of_Singapore

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Singapore

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Founding_of_modern_Singapore

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Singaporean_history

http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/History/Singapore-history.htm

http://www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/browse/aboutsingapore/a-brief-history.html

http://meridian103.com/issue-7/history/merlion/

There are loads! It is a fascinating read too, if you enjoy ancient history, mythology and politics that surround being an island nation.

Late last year I decided to go sight seeing. I’d been in the country almost an entire year and I hadn’t delved into the history or memory of the place. Coming from a country with a full, rich history, not all of it to be proud of, I always find it connects you to a place more to learn about its past, where it came from, how the people settled and built it up into the country they call home. I’ve not had much chance to do this in the past. Most of my historical wanderings are done from a computer. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the old west of America and some of the older parts of Europe in my travels but I’ve never been in another place long enough to go explore its history and just be a tourist there for a while. Living in Singapore is all go go go so it was nice to just wander for a day, taking pictures and enjoying the sights.

The place to go to find Singapore’s historical sites is City Hall. There are others I intend to explore but this is where I went for my first adventure.

First stop was St Andrew’s Cathedral. There’s always a cathedral isn’t there? This is an Anglican cathedral and the largest in Singapore.

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Here’s some history if you like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrew’s_Cathedral,_Singapore

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It’s a very pretty church.

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Here are some skyline pictures. I do enjoy a varied skyline. This is the skyline near Marina Bay as you can see by the big ship on top of a sky scraper 😉

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This is City Hall. Undergoing refurbishment for the most part. It was built in 1929. The Japanese conducted political business from the building during their occupation of Singapore during WWII. It was also where British POWs during WWII were rounded up in front of the building before marching to Changi prison by the Japanese. In 1963 Lee Kuan Yew read out the Malaysia proclamation and declared Singapore no longer under British rule. The first national day parade was held here in 1966.

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These are the war memorials. The one on the left is the Cenotaph war memorial. The writing on the front states; ‘Our glorious dead’. The one on the right is the Lim Bo Seng memorial. This was erected to serve as a reminder of the price Lim Bo Seng and other war veterans, paid for Singapore to become what it is today; free and independent. Here’s a little more detail for you: http://comesingapore.com/travel-guide/article/313/lim-bo-seng-memorial

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The first is a totem pole representing Asian civilisation museum and the second is the Dalhousie Obelisk. These are at Empress Place near the museum. The obelisk was built to commemorate the second visit to Singapore, of the Marquis of Dalhousie, who was the Governor-General of India in 1850. It was also built to remind succeeding merchants of the benefits of free trade.

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This is a picture of the Fullerton Hotel taken from across the river. The Fullerton Hotel was originally known as the Fullerton Building, named after Robert Fullerton, the first Governor of the Straits Settlement. It was commissioned in 1919 to commemorate the centenary of the British Colony but was finally opened in 1928. During WWII before the British surrendered to the Japanese (1942) here it was used as a hospital. It subsequently became the headquarters of the Japanese military administration n in Singapore. Redevelopment began in 1997 and it was finally reopened in 2001 as the Fullerton Hotel.

The bridge in front is the Cavanagh Bridge, which is the only suspension bridge and the oldest bridge in Singapore that exists in its original form. It was built in 1870 and was originally called the Edinburgh Bridge after the Duke of Edinburgh to commemorate his visit to the country.

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The first two pictures speak for themselves. The next two are pictures of the Raffles statue, built to commemorate Sir Thomas Raffles landing in Singapore on the 28th January 1819. He is credited with founding the city of Singapore as it is known today and also London Zoo 🙂  Raffles was named as “Agent to the Most Noble the Governor-General with the States of Rhio (Riau),Lingin and Johor”.

“While in Singapore, Raffles established schools and churches in the native languages. He allowed missionaries and local businesses to flourish. Certain colonial aspects remained: a European town was quickly built to segregate the population, separated by a river; carriage roads were built and cantonments constructed for the soldiers. Otherwise, however, no duties were imposed and confident that Farquhar would follow his instructions well, he sailed for Bencoolen once again on 28 June.” – Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamford_Raffles#Singapore_.281822.E2.80.931823.29 

In 1823 Raffles drew up the first constitution of Singapore outlawing gaming and slavery, as written into the constitution was a specific regulation for there to be no crimes against race. He left for England on the 24th August in 1824 and his longest stay in the country during those years was only 8 months. He died in 1826 of apoplexy in England at 44 years old. He is credited with being the founder of modern Singapore.

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I really liked this building. This is a fire station. The Central Fire Station to be exact. It’s the oldest existing fire station in Singapore located in the center of the business district. It was completed in 1908. Since then the fire service has been intergrated into Singapore’s Civil Defence Force and is no longer a separate entity but the station is still in use today. It serves as museum now show casing the history of fire fighting in Singapore and of the developments of the Civil Defence Force from the 19th century to the present day. I mostly just thought it was really pretty 😀

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The first picture is Elgin Bridge which links the Downtown core to the Singapore River Planning Area in the Central district. It was completed in 1929 and named after the Lord Elgin the Governor-General of India. It is believed to have existed as a footbridge as early as 1819 and was the only bridge to cross the Singapore River, linking the Chinese community on the Southern side to the Indian merchants on the Northern side. This was replaced by a wooden draw bridge named Presentment Bridge or Monkey Bridge as it was narrow and so required some agility in getting across.

The next picture is Parliament House. The Presidential Council for minority rights meet in this building. This is a non-elected government body established in 1970 to scrutinize the passing of bills by Parliament to ensure that they do not descriminate against any racial or religious community. The building itself is a public building and a cultural landmark. It was completed in 1999.

There are so many other sites and buildings and cultural heritage monuments that I haven’t shown you and haven’t seen myself. Singapore has a varied, packed history. Upon gaining its independence the country pulled itself up from 3rd world conditions to become one of the world’s most prosperous nations. It suffered a great deal following the Japanese occupation and the British lost their credibility as the infallible ruler when they failed to protect the country from the invaders. Even now there’s still resentment towards us British from survivors of the war, who lived through the occupation, (some still love us) but the resentment is understandable for the others. It became an independent crown colony in 1947. In the 1960s it underwent a merger with Malaysia but due to racial tension, federal conflicts and bloodshed on both sides, Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965. Only a few hours later (efficiency has always been their thing), the Parliament of Singapore passed the Republic of Singapore Independence Act, establishing the island as an independent and sovereign republic.

“For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories.” – Lee Kuan Yew 1965

As my Singaporean friend tells me often; Singapore is probably the only country who gained its independence unwillingly.

There is, as with all countries and governments, things wrong, policies and leaders that could do things differently or better but to build a nation up from violence, poverty and being cast out by its neighbour, to being a country that is ranked as the 3rd most competitive, with the best business environment in the world and in the top 25 for education (I could go on but here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_rankings_of_Singapore), is definitely not something to sniff at.

I am only a visitor here, staying for a while, maybe I’ll set down roots, I don’t know but I know that even I am proud as a human being of what Singaporeans have achieved for their pocket-sized country. It just shows what people working together can do.

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Here let’s end with a picture of modern Singapore fronted by older shop houses and buildings along the river bank. It seems fitting. 🙂

 

 

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Another year in a pocket sized country…

Well it’s been a while since I last wrote. The lack of writing came about when I changed my job due to instability and then ended up working in a place that put me in a not so good place mentally. Currently still unemployed and waiting for a visa approval. Fingers crossed that it comes through soon or that’ll be potentially the end of my adventures in this pocket sized country. 

Since Christmas I have traveled to a different country which shows the stark differences between a third world and a first world country. Singapore is classed as first world. Fifty years ago, it was a third world country. There’s a lot to be proud of in this small island, you can’t take that away from them. They have done well and compared to the majority of countries that are on the equator it probably has the best and most stable way of life. It has its faults, that goes without saying but their successes are definitely ones they should celebrate. Unfortunately, many Singaporeans don’t realise how good they have it here and often end up complaining about the state of affairs as they are. Problems are certainly all relative though, so everyone is entitled to a good whinge. 

This post will be about my trip to Cambodia. I have to warn you that it could be quite upsetting visually and mentally. On my visit over there, I couldn’t decide whether to throw up or cry at the history the country has, recent history too. Cambodia has suffered greatly in the last 40 years and I want to share my experiences to open eyes a little about how, not bad, most of us currently have it but how very wrong things could go so very quickly.

The visit to Cambodia wasn’t a long one, just long enough to escape the frivolities of Chinese New Year in Singapore. The first day was quite relaxed at our quaint little hotel. The drive to the hotel was an instant eye opener to the state of living there. Away from the city centre of Phnom Penh the roads are just dirt tracks and there are no rules, no signs and it seemed to me that it was every man woman and child for themselves. With, surprisingly, little to no accidents. In my head it was just chaos. To the Cambodians this was normal. 

The people seemed friendly on arrival and were very welcoming. Going out to find food later was also a pleasant evening and the food was delicious. A nice start to what was to be a relaxing holiday.

Our hotel, we were right on the top floor overlooking the pool.

The next day it was decided that we were to travel via Tuk Tuk. Basically a trailer pulled by a motorcycle. It is the cheapest way to travel through Cambodia and you do get to see more. A mask is recommended though as those roads are extremely dusty, we got covered. 

This was on our Tuktuk traveling through the centre, note tarmac on the roads and vague order. 

A distinct lack of tarmac, plus dust. 

This was on our way to the place called; ‘The Killing Fields’. I can assure you this name is meant literally. 

For those of you who aren’t sure of Cambodia’s history, please click on the link to Wikipedia for a brush up. I am sorry to say that I honestly didn’t know much. I had heard vaguely of political goings on but this place, seeing it this way, really drove home what had happened in this country. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Fields

The Killing Fields now is a monument to the people who suffered and died there. It was originally a camp. People, men, women and children were sent here to be executed. There were so many that usually they couldn’t kill them all in one day and so they had to wait. The sight that greeted us was deceptively innocuous, which I suppose is the intention. I will post some pictures of what I saw there with explanations as my words simply don’t do them justice.

 

The entrance. The monument is typically Buddhist and was built by the Cambodians to honour and remember those that perished according to their traditions. 

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This was the start of the guided tour. You could choose to have a guide or the Audio guide and make your own way around. I chose the latter, seemed more personal. These signs are all that remains of the buildings that stood here and what they represented. 

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The mounds aren’t very clear in these pictures but these fields were mass graves of the executed. 

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In the first picture, the remains of the dead buried here have been left in peace due to the flooding. In the second picture the fields of graves fall on either side of this pathway and the final picture is the view many would have seen outside the camp. 

This was the largest mass grave and a fence has been erected around it to remember the victims. 

The sign speaks for itself.

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Surreal reminder of where we were.

The tree beside this mass grave where the children were thrown against to kill them before throwing them into the pit. When the Khmer Rouge fell and this place was discovered, it was reported that blood and brain matter was still visible on the bark of the tree.

At the end of the tour, we return to the monument. 

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This is what is inside. 

The majority of the victims were sent to this camp from the notorious S-21 prison which lies in the centre of Phnom Penh. This camp is a few kilometers out of the city. We went there next.

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Just out of the perimeter.

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People of intellect were targeted by the Khmer Rouge as they were the ones most feared by the leaders to rebel and stand against them. They had to pretend to know nothing if they wanted to survive and even that didn’t save them. Many were driven out of the city and forced to work in the fields with little food and under the harsh sun and even harsher hand of the Khmer Rouge, many of whom were brain washed children. 

Let me remind you that the Khmer Rouge was made up of Cambodians. Either through fear or loyalty these acts were carried out against Cambodians by their fellow Cambodians. 

I also recommend watching the film; The Killing Fields made in 1984, it is a stark account of what happened, dramatised for film but still hard hitting and based on the experiences of an actual survivor of the genocide. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Killing_Fields_(film)

The Cambodians memorialized these places so that future generations could remember and that they would learn from their mistakes and try not to let such atrocities happen again. There were a number of prisons and camps like these dotted all around Cambodia and some that are still inaccessible due to mine fields. 

This visit left me feeling quite numb, as seeing that many bones of the dead is want to do. There is an estimated 8000 remains in that memorial. This was just our first day.

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Now I’m not going to bombard you with more images of horror and the dead. In fact this will be a stark contrast. The second day we visited a temple and the royal palace. The differences and beauty of the architecture were all the more poignant for what we’d seen sitting on their doorsteps. 

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This was the Buddhist temple and given that it was Chinese New Year there were a lot of people here. 

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The palace and the palace gardens was astonishingly beautiful.

Cambodia itself has a lot of beauty. The Cambodians have done well to rebuild and pick themselves up from what happened. Most of them will still remember the events, a lot of them will have lived it. 

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These two pictures were a short walk away from our hotel and are a good example of the beauty that exists here. I think it’s amazing that these people went through so much and are still so friendly and welcoming. It is, I suppose a testament to the human spirit.

Cambodia touched me in a way I never thought another country would. I will remember these places and the thoughts of those people because I feel it my duty as a human being to remember. Society can so easily fall into chaos. Events like these are more common place than we like to admit. Look at the current tensions in Syria, Thailand, Ukraine and Russia. It is happening right on our very doorsteps. Will we learn from what happen here? Some might, most won’t. 

Surely we can at least do them the honour of remembering. Remembering all those who die in conflicts, soldiers and civilians alike. 

Maybe one day the human race will learn to stop killing itself over politics, land, religion and wealth. I am but a dreamer though. 

Here is a picture of a cat lounging in the sun of Cambodia on our last day, right outside our room. 

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Because everything always feels better when there’s a cat. Right?

 

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Us and Them

One Singapore: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMGWJv4R88k

You’re more likely to receive a funny look on the train than you are a smile. In honesty I don’t think I ever expected a friendly face on public transport while in the UK either. I preferred it when nobody sat next to me on the bus. Whereas here I’ll move to the window seat so people can sit only for it to remain empty when the bus is crammed full. Maybe I just have a need for acceptance because I know I’m not wholly accepted here.

My friend said to me that I didn’t really understand what it was like to be racially isloated. I said to her, how could I not understand? There are places in the world I simply cannot go for fear of my safety simply because I’m a white woman. I know that other racial minorities experience this, of course they do. It’s human nature to judge and hate that which appears different or cultures, lifestyles we don’t understand. We’re all guilty of it. Even me. Now I’ve been on both sides of the fence, how could I not understand?

I never considered myself racist before. I grew up with and around those who judged people as a whole. They judged a race, a colour, they made/make assumptions, they still do, we all do. I used to think myself above it, never looking at someone differently because they were a different skin colour to me. I have and still have Asian, Indian, South African friends. I have friends literally all over the world and difference were something to learn about, understand, educate myself on. They weren’t ever an issue. Here though, here things are different.

Yes, Singapore is safe and progressive, their security and police are top notch, respected. Many racial communities live together in supposed harmony. For the most part that’s true. You can’t judge the system here. It works. This government has a handle on things. What you do experience here is the subvertive racism. The snide comments made in Chinese about us ‘Ang mo kows’ (red-haired monkeys). The comments made about anyone who wasn’t born Singaporean. One I have come across is, ‘White Monkey’ or ‘White Devil’ for us westerners and ‘black devil’ for referring to Indians.

Now I’m not just writing this from a viewpoint of ‘oh poor white girl finally realising what it’s like to be judged and be a victim of prejudice,’ I’m a people watchet. I’ve seen this between Singaporean and Chinese (essentially indistinguishable from one another mostly), Indian and Philapeno, white and everyone. Racism, for all Singapore’s claims of harmony, exists, is proliferate in here, from everyone.

Every racial group segregates from the other. They only mingle when they have to. The working westerners even look down upon and judge the rich expat westerners who come over here and throw their money around like its going out of fashion. Some really do walk around like they own the place, some of them could probably afford to. They make it difficult for the rest of the westerners who want to work who do live on a budget here. As far the the majority of Singapore are concerned though, we’re all the same.

It’s the same argument you’ll find in the UK. ‘Oh they’re stealing our jobs’, ‘send them home, they don’t belong here.’ Well like it or not, those jobs were available folks if you really wanted them. Here in some cases the choosing of foreign talent over local is true so I can understand the negativity to an extent but ‘send them home, they don’t belong here?’ Well actually this Ang mo kow pays bloody taxes and rent and bills and I only get a local wage. My new job is only slightly above average but because I don’t pay into the CPF it works out about the same as a local package and I got a job very very few Singaporeans wanted due to the stigma against mental health issues here, (a whole other story). 

I digress. 

Mostly this has been a spilling out of thoughts from my own observations and from talking to people local and foreign. 

Here have some propaganda:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH0Dn7dcRzQ

When you have to make a video and a song telling everyone you’re a happy, welcoming place, the truth is that you’re very likely the opposite.

Singapore is not a cheerful place. Yes it’s clean and safe and you do honestly meet some lovely people and sometimes folk will surprise you by saying please and thankyou but on the whole. Singapore is unfriendly and not welcoming, unless you’re a tourist and have money, lots of it! With money you don’t have to care about acceptance. The UK is very similar in that respect the only difference being; I could drive and did drive everywhere in the UK so I separated myself from the public, here it’s in my face every single day.

I’d go so far to say that it’s harder for white women here than it is for white men. A lot of Asian girls want to bag themselves a nice rich white husband. I want to shake some of them honestly but that’s not as bad here as it is in places like Indonesia where they can pretty much be sold into marriage by their own families before they’re out of their school uniforms.

I grew up craving acceptance even among my peers, here it’s nice when somebody just says ‘excuse me’ rather than knocking into you because how dare you walk on the same path as them? That need for acceptance is fading along with my respect for people as a whole. Being here could very easily turn you into a rude, MRT barging, cold, disinterested individual with your headphones firmly in your ears, scowl on your face and sunglasses on so you don’t have to make eye contact with people lest they look down on you.

I consider myself fortunate to have met a few nice friendly individuals, locals. They keep me from completely discarding my manners and British polite sensibilities and keep me hoping that if I continue to try and be nice and pleasant with people I meet, they won’t hate me simply because I’m paler than them. It’s one reason why I want to get better at speaking Chinese so I can show that acceptance and understanding go both ways. I’m just one person but I want to keep hold of that utopian, naive, childish dream that we really can, one day, live together peacefully. Maybe its something that does need to be enforced?

Maybe Singapore has the right idea by limiting some freedoms and securing this as a home for millions of multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious people. 

If that’s the case I think in time I can learn to live with it and not let it turn me into a bitter, resentful, racist person.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult and isolating and so I will seek out places that have become pockets of acceptance, for everyone, no matter who you are. Mine is in Starbucks. In the seven months I’ve been here, I’ve not once met a rude Starbucks’ employee. It’s the one place I can come and find a smiling face, where I feel like I’m accepted for who I am, safe in my little bubble. If it weren’t for pockets of places like this, I think I’d be coming home for good in December.

I am giving it a chance as much as my limited patience will allow. I only hope Singapore gives me a chance to prove I can fit in too. After all it’s supposedly the country of ‘many races, one nation, one Singapore.’

The children celebrate ‘Interracial harmony day’ here in school. They dress up in traditional dress of their culture and celebrate all the different cultures in their country. One of my primary one students asked me what the traditional dress was for my culture. (I honestly have no clue if there is one), I said I didn’t know. She wanted to know what we wore when we celebrated inter-racial harmony day. I told her, much to her surprise that we didn’t celebrate it in my country. She being 7 of course wanted to know why, so I explained the truth. We don’t have inter-racial harmony in my country. She didn’t really understand why not but she understood enough to agree with me when I said she’s lucky to have been born and to live in Singapore.

Few countries can profess to have so little obvious reported unrest as Singapore. I’m not entirely sure how much goes unreported…

She also asked me if all Singaporeans were Chinese, to which I obviously said no and she has formed her opinions enough to declare that she hated Malays, even after telling me her father was Malaysian. I suppose this is like an English person saying they hate the French or the ‘yanks’ (no offence to my American friends).

I wanted to know why she hated them and she simply told me that they talk too much. She’s 7! Nothing about race or culture just ‘they talk too much’. I envy the bubble in which Singaporean children are raised. 

Britain with regards to racism isn’t much better, we just don’t have enforced tolerance. Crimes involving racial prejudice are broadcast widely, here they’re very much brushed under the rug.

In the UK the racial tensions go both ways. You have catholics being unable to wear crosses in school, other cultures getting preferential treatment as opposed to the common working white British person. Poppy burners. White British people are looked down upon in our own country by growing minorities and here we’re looked down upon for being the unwanted minority. An Irish teacher was found dead in her bed here very recently and the comments online consist of anti-foreigner sentiment and being glad that it’s one less foreigner coming to steal local jobs and she shouldn’t have been here in the first place. A woman is dead and all that matters to some of these people is that she was a white foreigner and the rest of us ‘better watch out’. Tell me again how I don’t understand racial isolation.

I know they don’t speak for the majority of Singapore but if you ask a Singaporean why are Singaporeans so racist and negative about foreigners in their country who live and work and pay taxes here, they will shake their head at you and blame the mainland Chinese people. They’re the ones who are racist, they make Singaporeans so mad, it’s all their fault. The majority of racism I’ve experienced here though has been from Singaporeans.

 

Denial is strong with these people.

I keep telling my friend not to read the racial, anti-foreigner comments on news posts, you get them in the UK too. I’ve seen anti-foreign sentiment on my facebook feed, from people I know so we’re all guilty of it. It isn’t really about race at all, it’s a few people, angry people, hateful people wanting to incite more hate because they don’t want to live with and tolerate difference. 

Reading that stuff will only make you angrier. It will make you paint everyone with the same brush even though a lot of the people we probably meet consider themselves about as racist as we do ourselves.

How we wish it could be:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTkVG6lWvwY

How the average Singaporean feels: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnoQtS-DjLQ

 

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Architecture’s battle with growing population

Life in Singapore moves along at a fairly steady pace. Due to its climate you don’t really get much in the way of passage of time. The sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm pretty much without fail every single day. It rises and sets quickly too. Like somebody flicking a light switch. The sun is always high and it’s always hot even if the sky isn’t always blue. It’s like the height of British summer time. (You know that week or two you get between June and September where the days are glorious and bright before everything dies and it starts raining again). Britain only really touches on the humidity though. Here it ranges from breezy and pleasant to stifling and ‘oh god why am I not dead yet!’ as soon as you step outside. I’ve been here six months now and the really hot, humid days I’ve still not adjusted to. Just yesterday I got heat stroke travelling across country on a bus, twice. o_0 Yeah three hour total journey, not even in direct sunlight and I get heat stroke. Typical.

I was actually going to write about the flora and fauna here this entry but I changed my mind as I’ve learned that unlike Australia, not everything here wants to or can kill you. A few things can, they’re normally mosquitoes but that’s for another blog entry. Probably after the Dengue outbreak has subsided so I don’t tempt fate too much. It’s been a while since I’ve updated due to job things and my mastery at procrastination. Related to the climate I’m going to talk about the homes here. 🙂

Oh how boring! Tough. I love architecture and the design of buildings and fitting the country’s almost 2 billion inhabitants into a place barely size of the Midlands in the UK. It’s a feat of engineering. Us Brits could learn a thing or two about making the most of the space around us.

The general consensus of Singapore is that everything is built tall. Many floors, many flats. That is generally true but they aren’t the only homes you’ll find in Singapore. Call me naive or whatever but I was genuinely surprised when I first saw houses here. Actual landed properties! Now houses to me that we’re used to seeing in the UK are generally two up, two down, front door, back door, some with garden some without, some terraces, some semi detached or detached. We do have fancy houses too you know for the uber rich but nothing like the landed properties I’ve seen here.

Now if you walk down any estate in the UK, I think barring the centre of any major city or old country villages, you find the same red brick house lining the streets for miles. Some might have different colours pebbled over the stone but pretty much standard houses. Especially for council houses, which you’d expect really.

NEWHAM COUNCIL ESTATE, CANNING TOWN. councilhouse

These two could be found pretty much anywhere in the UK. The houses are not too dissimilar from the house I was brought up in (except ours was nicer and had a larger garden), my mum lives in a relatively nice one now, in a pleasant estate. Nice garden, quiet street. The flats are typically found in cities or large town and they’re growing along with the population. They look fairly non descript and in some areas they can look downright untidy and ugly. There’s just no thought put into them, except to throw them up as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Which is a shame. The new houses you find in England are much pokier, narrower, creakier and smaller with tiny gardens. It makes sense when you’re running out of space I suppose but then how come a place like Singapore manages to utilise their space so well? They have more people per square meter in the whole country than England does.

Let’s look at flats. I’ve lived in some pretty flats in the UK and I’ve lived in some not so pretty ones, or at least I’ve lived near them. The privately rented ones do tend to be nicer but not always. The respect for any property and the people that live in rented property council or private isn’t high in the UK. Hell we can’t even have a nice clean bus stop without some hellion vandalizing the shit out of it! No wonder we can’t have anything nice, right?

Government flats (HDBs) in Singapore are bog standard sizes and floors. They’re all the same and yet… they’re not.

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The first picture is right in the middle of a HDB estate. Look they have colour and trees! Look at all the green that fills the space and how everything fits together. This is a fairly old estate to be fair and so isn’t as nice as some of the newer ones. The one on the right is newer and with bonus pretty sunset. They don’t give credit to the detail that goes into just the outside of these concrete boxes.

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The two pictures on the left are where I currently live. Look at the colour! Even during a storm they don’t look dull. The ones on the right are taken in China square, they’re pretty much close to the city and they aren’t an eye sore. Well I don’t think they are in comparison to say flats in our cities. They use space and colour and greenery here, something we’re sorely lacking in the UK. We just like to add more concrete to everything, ugly ugly concrete.

Now not all places are like this. There are some beautiful towns and villages and even parts of cities that do this. Yorkshire and the Lake District for example have extremely picturesque housing and landscape. Even parts of London does! In Singapore though, pretty much all the modern (being in the last 20 years or so) are made to a standard which attempts at the very least not to be ugly. Especially seeing as they have to build tall here so it’s going to be noticed. There are ugly places here too, don’t get me wrong but none that make me say, ‘urgh, wouldn’t want to go there on my own in broad daylight’. (Actually nowhere in Singapore makes you want to say that, except for maybe right in the city or in more remote, poorly lit areas and only ever at night. It’s just safe here. Everywhere pretty much.

The prettiest flats tend to be the condominiums. This is not a word we have in the UK. We don’t really have this style of housing. These are flats built for luxury. They tend to be little communities within gated walls. They can have shops, a gym, a swimming pool, just to name a few amenities. These range from affordable to nope just nope in the price range and are usually reserved for business people, expats and the super wealthy. That is unless you’re lucky enough to find a nice one at a decent price to rent. I could rent one but I’d likely have to share with people. It’s like private accommodation in the UK, you rent a room and share the living areas and amenities.

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Look at the shiny! These are in the East part of the country and they do vary. Not all are this nice and some look remarkably like HDBs until you get inside them :p

Now onto housing, landed properties as they’re called here. They’re big! Narrow and long but big. Some can have as many as three or four floors to one house and each floor can have up to five rooms, maybe more. I don’t actually know the exact figures I haven’t counted and haven’t been in many.

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These aren’t the best examples as I was on the bus at the time. In passing here are some landed properties. Even if they have the same design they have different coloured roofs or different shapes and different number of floors. Some are mostly glass and others have multiple balconies. They can be astonishingly pretty from the outlandishly garish. Also there’s this one at the top of the hill:

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That tiny white spec in the top left is a house. A massive massive house ^_^;; They can be beautiful but these really are for people with money. Unless you get to rent a room in one that is.

If you don’t believe me how visually outstanding and downright ugly they can be; then type in ‘landed property, Singapore’ into your search engine and click on images. Some of the architecture and infrastructure of this country can take your breath away and other parts of it can make you recoil. 

I can’t remember the last time modern architecture in the UK made me feel anything other than; ‘Oh it’s another glass building, that’s nice’ or ‘meh’. The most beautiful buildings in the UK tend to be in the couple of hundreds of years old. Singapore still emulates some of our older victorian style buildings but for the most part it’s moving away to embrace more modern styles and forward thinking. They must use all the space they have but it also must be livable, for a country that shies away from creativity, it’s nice to see that it is embraced in a lot of their buildings, even their malls.

Sadly though, like with anywhere in the world with large and fast growing population, with the rate the housing, pretty and otherwise is being thrown up, there’ll soon be very little in the way of landscape left to look at.

I have never really been a city girl and if there’s one thing I’m nostalgic for, it’s Britain’s rolling countryside. Long may it be cherished and protected. Here have a couple of pictures. The one on the left is Britain, the one on the right is Singapore.

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There’s something to suit everyone. 🙂

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Beware the steamed chicken!!

Singaporeans are foodies. They love it! They are also feeders. There isn’t a Singaporean I know that hasn’t tried to feed me something, even if I say I’m full, no just isn’t the right answer. 

It’s good in a lot of ways because there is so much to choose from here. The food is as multi-cultural as the people and so very cheap too! 

Now for anybody who knows me (and you probably don’t even need to know me that well), you’ll know I’m what is described as a fussy eater. Personally I hate the label. I had problems with food growing up and I was very ill when very young and my relationship with food was just… delayed. This means however I am very conscious of what I can and cannot eat. A lot of the time it isn’t about taste for me but texture. This is an actual condition; SED selective eating disorder which is found in people with OCD (surprise surprise, which I have in mild form). This is something a child quite often grows out of but when pressure is put on a child by people or friends to like or eat certain things when they’re simply not that confident, self conscious behaviours emerge and they never grow out of it. Or it takes a great deal of patience and understanding from friends and family alike. 

My relationship as I’ve grown older and more confident with myself has improved somewhat. When I was younger I would refuse to eat something simply because of how it looked or smelled, it was a genuine fear of maybe throwing it back up which is never pleasant for anyone. Now, I will attempt to try everything at least once. Some of you will be cheering at this point 😉 

Singapore is not the place for a fussy eater but the beauty of being here is that there’s so much choice! When I first got here, I have to admit to being quite wary of many things. Dishes aren’t quite as clearly labelled in the hawker stalls as they are in places in the UK and sometimes the choice can be overwhelming and confusing. Thankfully my friend has been very patient in telling me what things are when I’m unsure and in the three, almost four months I’ve been here, I have learned a lot!

Now let’s move onto the food! 😀

Starting with the basics. Fruit! I love fruit. Plums, grapes and strawberries are my favourite but here water melon is so tasty and Korean strawberries are probably the tastiest I’ve ever eaten. We simply do not get fruit that tasty or fresh, nor that much variety of it in the UK. Not in my experience anyway. This is a sad fact of the decline of the food markets as supermarkets take over the food shopping industry. 

There is one fruit here that is banned from public transport due its’ smell. You’ve probably heard of it before. Durian. Before I came to Singapore I had never heard of a fruit being banned from public transport. Still it never struck me that it could be THAT BAD

Well. I was wrong.

Durian: Image

You only eat the middle bit obviously and although it looks sort of solid, the flesh is soft and slimy and weird with a hard core and I’m pretty sure it came from the Alien films. The smell is a cross between strong cheese, like Camembert or Stilton and unwashed feet. I’m not kidding. This stuff lingers too, it stays on your clothes, in your mouth and yes even in your pee. I was tasting it for about a week after I’d tried a small mouthful. The taste is sweet and not that far removed from the smell, a bit cheesy but that texture…. auughhh! No, just no. Durian is not for me. Maybe if it was frozen into ice cream or a drink then perhaps I would like it but in its’ pure fruit form, I’m going to pass. In my opinion you need a strong stomach for this.

Let’s move onto something nicer shall we? 

One of the first places I ever ate at in Singapore was the Xin Wang Hong Kong cafe in West Coast plaza. They have such a range of foods. Mostly chinese, singaporean and western but many different types of dishes. The baked rice with chicken is very nice but very filling and pretty much a heart attack on a plate as it is smothered in cheese. I quite like the lemon chicken rice with egg and the congee. Congee is a very warming comforting dish. It’s basically rice porridge with different ingredients like egg, chicken, pork and so on thrown in. Very tasty and filling. Only problem is you’re hungry again pretty much straight away.

This does however leave room for one of the most wonderful deserts I’ve had here. Would you consider putting vanilla ice cream with thick french toast? No, me neither! 

Voila! And it is a giant as it looks! And yes that is me already digging my way in 😀 This was so wonderfully tasty and not as filling as it looked. The bread itself is quite light and the ice cream helps it not be too dry. This got a thumbs all round 🙂 it was so good my friend had it for breakfast the other day ^_^

One food I discovered I quite liked even back in the UK was Japanese food. Here, you often find Japanese with Korean influences and oh my! It is yummy. My colleague took me to her favourite Ramen place and I had the curried ramen with chicken. 😀

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The image is slightly blurry but you get the idea. This was so very tasty. So many different flavours and a curry that wasn’t too spicy which is perfect for me. Also there was this: Image

Green tea smoothie 😀 It complimented the curried ramen very nicely. This is what my colleague had: 

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I believe this was pork, but don’t quote me on that. It was also very yummy so I’m told 🙂

While we’re on the Japanese theme, I also tried sushi for the first time here the other week. It was delicious! 😀 Sea food is so fresh and tasty here. It has so much flavour. I recommend trying fish and sea food in Singapore to anyone. Even the fast food outlets have nice fish. They were a very good find when I was craving good old english fish and chips. One thing I have discovered I hate however is; fish maw. This is actually fish bladder and it is often put into soups in chinese meals and is considered a delicacy and I cannot express enough how vile I find this. It doesn’t really have any flavour but it is slimy and that is one of the textures I struggle to actually physically swallow. I had an uncomfortable experience with this at my friend’s family dinner at a chinese restaurant. The food on the whole was delicious and very typically chinese but I decided to be brave and try the fish maw. That was my first mistake. Once it was in my mouth I felt like I couldn’t just spit the thing out in front of these people who had only just met me, this was a birthday dinner after all and so I had to swallow it. That was my second mistake. That was the closest I have come to actually throwing up in a restaurant in front of an audience after the age of 12. I was quite literally wretching/gagging for what felt like forever. My body simply did not want to keep it down. If you’re not into tasteless slimy things I would suggest avoiding this one.

I don’t have a picture of that but I do have a picture of the chicken katsu ju we had in the sushi/Japanese restaurant. 

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Very yummy but a lot of food and it’s quite stodgy. The best bento food I’ve had was from a hawker stall near my work. It’s actually Korean. They have breaded scallops, rice and crispy chicken and miso soup. It is wonderful and so very cheap at $4.50 SGD for the amount that you get. This is the great thing about Singapore. Even in the restaurants food is cheap. It is actually in a lot of cases cheaper to eat out than it is to buy ingredients yourself and cook at home. And for a lot of expats that live in rented accommodation cooking isn’t actually allowed so it’s very good that eating out is more than sufficient. I’ve not had all good experiences though eating from hawker stalls or food courts. If you don’t like spicy you have to be careful because the majority of food here is spicy and also watch out for the steamed chicken. While some small hawker stalls will make it for you hot with rice (which is yummy by the way) many won’t. Steamed chicken is traditionally served ice cold. I actually thought it was raw when I had it and couldn’t eat it because my brain told me that cold chicken is wrong, plus it was really cold! This is what you get used to in England. Don’t eat cold chicken! Here it’s fairly common but to save yourself from the shock, I recommend the roasted chicken rice. Hot and tasty and once again; cheap. I sulked about this for a good twenty minutes because it was a faux pas I had made regarding the local food. When you already have a tendency to get self-conscious about food and you make a mistake (anyone who has lived in Singapore would know that steamed chicken is typically cold), you feel quite a bit stupid, in some extreme cases it can be upsetting. I certainly don’t want to spend my time here, asking my friend what is in everything or how things are cooked before I eat anything. This can get very frustrating for her and honestly demeaning to the confidence for me. This is all part of trying new things though. I have soldiered on and I’m still discovering what things I like and don’t like and what things I must avoid at all costs. Fish maw: shudders! 

Singapore although being predominantly asian also has a lot of very nice choices of western food. Be it from the standard fast food places to lovely roast chicken dinner with chips and vegetables. I also discovered today a wonderful lemon chicken with mustard soup, which I will be eating again. I’m always pleased when I find a tasty soup due to the fact I’m never in the mood for soup until it is in front of me but I always find it so comforting and filling. 

On the downside, I have found that vegetables are lacking here as are salad places. Sumo salad is very nice but there just isn’t much choice in the range of vegetables and salads. It makes me glad I’m not a vegetarian. Even though I tend to stick to my chicken and fish, because a lot of places have to be halal here, this is more than adequate and I’m finally becoming a lot more confident with my diet and food experimentations. 

Here are some old favourites I’ve had here: 

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It simply wouldn’t be proper if I ended on anything other than tea 🙂 Singapore doesn’t really do tea in the way us English people do tea. They have lovely green teas but most of their tea tends to be sweet, made with condensed milk, which is nearly always sweet. I hadn’t had much luck in finding a nice tea other than lipton. However it was Cold Storage to the rescue with none other than my favourite Yorkshire tea 😀 it was like home away from home, in a cup. Also check out the funky tea spoon 😀 I am easily pleased! 

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