Goodbye Singapore

Our last two-and-a-half days in Singapore, after returning from Christmas and New Year in Manila, were absolute mayhem.

We spent them at a breakneck pace running errands: bequeathing excess alcohol to friends, cashing in a voucher at Sephora, getting a haircut and pedi, and shopping for a few last-minute essentials…

saying goodbye to old friends…

and “hello” to new ones.

Along the way we managed to have a last few bites of some cherished Singapore favorites: xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, curry puffs on Killiney Road (my breakfast on the way to work at the old BDA office), and of course, black pepper crab at Jumbo.

The most heartbreaking task by far was saying goodbye to Rogue.

She had just normalized (read: stopped being clingy, vocal and needy) after our three-week absence, and had absolutely no clue what was in store for her on Wednesday night. In hindsight, we could have handled her relocation better by doing things like familiarizing her with the new and larger cat carrier, providing her with a warm blanket, and putting in a piece of my or Marlon’s clothing so she can smell our scents and not feel abandoned.

But there was just so much on both our minds before leaving. So it was really hard to hear her low, mournful yowls when Mitchville Kennels, who handled the relocation at the Singapore end, came to take her away. I had to remind myself that we were entrusting her to professionals and would be seeing her again in less than 24 hours.

The most maddening task, on the other hand, was squeezing all our remaining possessions into the weight limits: 2 x 23kg for checked luggage, and 60kg for unaccompanied air freight. You’d think that over 100kg would be more than enough for our clothes and stuff right?

Hah. Try being 48kg overweight. PANIC!!!

In hindsight (again), I should have left all the clothes I used in Manila/Bohol/Boracay with Mom. And not bought so many books in Manila. (But, but… Alexandra Trese!) And not so many winter clothes either—they’re damn heavy. But somehow, with a few hours of panicked reshuffling and a last-minute trip to the Salvation Army, Marlon and I managed to magically squelch everything into three large suitcases, three small wheelies, two laptop bags, a coat carrier and a handbag.

Which seems to be about the time that things took off at warp speed. The turnover of the keys to our landlord, dragging our tired asses and 48,000 pieces of luggage into a Maxicab to go the airport, more frantic reshuffling at the check-in counter…

Were we thrilled, excited, brimming with joy? Yes. Was it all-consuming? Not really. Wrestling with all the hand-carried luggage took the edge off a bit. So by the time we collapsed into our seats in the plane, wide-eyed wonder had given way to this.

The minutes started blurring together and before I knew it, the plane had taken off. Outside my window, white-hot streams of jet fuel rushed past, pushing Singapore firmly into my past, and propelling me, mile by mile and minute by minute, into the Europe that was to be my future.

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From happy to happier (hopefully)

A few weeks ago, Marlon and I saw a window display for a book about the world’s happiest countries. Imagine how gleefully we chortled upon seeing how our soon-to-be ex-home and our soon-to-be future home stacked up against each other on the list!

Moving 77 places up the list is not too bad, ey?

Though Singapore and I have not exactly been a match made in heaven, we’ve had some great times. And for a place that ranks below Kosovo, Bosnia, and Kazakhstan on the happiness list, it’s done very well for me these last three years. For obvious reasons, there are tons of things I’m looking forward to in Amsterdam. But to be fair, there are also a lot of things I’ll miss about Singapore.

The food. Singapore is where I really fell in love with Asian food. For some reason in Manila, if you want gobsmacking, very authentic Asian food other than Chinese (say Thai or Indian), chances are you have to pay through the nose for it. Not so here. Great food is abundant, very affordable and truly diverse. Unfortunately for me, I have enough added poundage to prove it!

Black pepper crab, my all-time favorite Singapore dish

The professional growth. Coming here stretched me professionally. I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself to take on production if I had stayed home; being shoved out of my comfort zone led me to discover the little payoffs and sweet spots in what seemed, many times, like a muck of difficulty. Among other things, I learned that being “fast” and “nice” is well and good, but not enough to carry me forward; not when there are other things to be, like “reliable”, “accurate”, “professional”… and so much more.

My last shoot with BDA for the Disney Channel in Kuala Lumpur
Finding the courage to leave a job that I’d loved was a daunting risk that paid off. And both learning that I’d done well enough for other people to want to hire me, and being able to sustain a financially rewarding freelance career out of that, have done wonders for my professional confidence.

Our house. I will miss our house! It may be out in the boonies as far as Singaporeans are concerned, but  I’ve loved living in this green, quiet, low-density, sprawling complex.

Our home has been an expression of Marlon’s and my still-developing identity as a newlywed couple. We’ve had so much fun decorating it (even if I did end up getting rid of half the furniture), making my first culinary steps (and mis-steps) in it, hosting the many guests of “Hotel Plazo” (or Palazzo Plazo, as Pauline calls it), just holing up and getting cozy on leisurely weekends, and yes, even messing it up when we just get too damn lazy. I enjoyed the comforts of home especially over the last six months when I started working freelance.
 The view that tells me the workday is over
It may not be a Town & Country or even a Real Living kind of place, but it’s been our home. And I sure am going to miss having a pool…
Singapore = 1, Amsterdam = 0

Note to self: must swim more this week! Barring Boracay and Bohol in December, God only knows when I’ll get to swim next!

Multicultural colleagues and friends. The locals may complain about us “FTs” or foreign talents (some even go as far as to call us foreign trash), but Singapore sure knows how to attract people from all over the world. (Whether they actually stay and put down roots is another story.) There are just so many expats here.

Happier times at BDA
I’ve had the chance to work with people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Japan, Australia, the US and the UK; some of the dearest friends Marlon and I have made here are from as far away as Colombia and South Africa.

Just like when I traveled to Europe with the Glee Club, meeting people of different cultures and backgrounds makes you realize there are so many different ways to live, so you don’t feel completely insane for making certain decisions. (Like going freelance and moving to Amsterdam, for example.)

The infrastructure. When locals whine about their infrastructure, sometimes I just want to slap them and say “Please travel more! And you’ll see that in this world, you’re lucky just to have a country that works!” Because public transport here is pretty awesome.

It’s why we haven’t felt the need for a car for three years (seven years for Marlon). And it’s why I don’t understand why one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country prints letters to the editor that are about such pressing problems as puddles (yes, puddles) in MRT stations and heated pleas to the government for an in-train display that lights up to tell you what stop you’re at and on which side of the train the doors will open. (People! It’s four freaking MRT lines, not rocket science! Have you seen the metro systems in Paris, Tokyo, Seoul?)

But I guess discovering malfunctions in such a well-oiled system can be like paying through the nose for tickets to Disneyland and finding out that Space Mountain is down for repairs. Oh, and I’ll miss cabs.

Cabs are my biggest vice here by far. Never mind the cabbies and their driving. I’ll miss relatively affordable taxi rides (relative to Europe, that is), being able to book taxis via SMS, and having them arrive in minutes. Ohhhh. If I think about it too much, I might get depressed. On to the next.

The large, and growing, Pinoy community. The number of Pinoys in Singapore has boomed since I first started visiting Marlon seven years ago. And the demographic is changing; for the first time in the history of Singapore, there are more Filipino professionals than Filipino domestic helpers. Nowadays, I catch snatches of Tagalog nearly everywhere I go. It’s like living in Makati. Or sometimes, Katipunan.

With Singapore-based high school and college classmates (Justine was visiting)

It’s great to be able to speak Tagalog to someone (most often on the customer-facing side of things) to break the ice, get things done, or simply create instant rapport. It’s even better to run into old acquaintances and rekindle friendships. And best of all, because of the large Pinoy community, it’s easy to get a lot of things home. In the mood for longganisadaing na bangus, sukang pinakurat, even pan de sal? Lucky Plaza lang ang katapat niyan.

Proximity to home. Cheap flights were a godsend for me in the first few months here, when I was still very homesick and hadn’t found work. Later on, as I started to make a home for myself here, the Philippines became our destination of choice for short getaways.

 Happiness in Bohol

I tried going to a few other beaches (Phuket, isdatchu?), but I guess there really is no place like home. It’s just ironic that I could only really afford to travel around my own country once I got out of it. When plane fare home moves up by from three digits to four next year, I am sure going to miss being able to hop on a Philippine-bound plane at the drop of a hat!

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The home stretch

Here we go, folks. I’m officially hitting the home stretch: my last seven days in Singapore. After that, it’s home for Christmas and to wait for our Dutch visas to be issued at the Dutch embassy in Makati. 
We have no idea what date we’ll be starting our new lives in Amsterdam, as Marlon’s new employers won’t book a flight until the visas are issued, which puts us in a kind of travel limbo. But I’m confident that at the end of this limbo is Europe, and you can’t imagine how that thrills, scares and excites me.

The euphoria has been derailed somewhat by a nasty fever that has knocked me out for the past two days. I’ve been mostly zonked out on paracetamol, but in between naps I got into mini fits of paranoia and panic.

The first one was about finding an flat. “The flats are tiny and expensive! Everyone will be out to stiff us! We don’t have money to burn like every other expat! We’re not on some giant expat package! Zzzzz.”

The second one was about getting things done before we leave. “I don’t know what to buy Marlon for Christmas! I need to go Christmas shopping! And buy a steamer! And the Eames chairs! And Sally Hansen wax strips! And have lunch with Maya, dinner with Sila, a barbecue with office friends, and squeeze in yoga everyday and… zzzzzzz.”

I had a whole list of things we wanted to do before leaving Singapore, which included finally trying Buddha Jumps Over The Wall (a mysteriously named and very expensive Chinese dish), dinner at Cocotte, brunch at the Botanic Gardens, and one last black pepper crab at Jumbo. (Is it obvious what I’ll miss most about this country?) But with the clock ticking, I think I’ll be content to simply pack up all our stuff, get some exercise, and say a few goodbyes. Anything else will be a luxury!

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Conversations with cheapskates

Wherever there are sales, there will surely be bargain hunters. And fortunately or unfortunately for us, our recent spate of unloading brought some real Scrooges out of the woodwork. Just in time for Christmas!

Craigslist Cheapskate: (Buying a two-seater couch worth $49) How old is this couch? The cushions look worn out. The paint looks worn out. I can give you $20 for it.
Me: (In my mind) If it’s so old and worn out, then what kind of loser are you to even want it?
Me: (In reality) Sorry. The couch has been sold.

Gumtree Cheapskate: (Buying a bookshelf worth $49) Hi. I really love the shelf, but I checked transport and found out that it will cost $50, which is more than the cost of the bookshelf. I don’t want to insult you, but only way it will work out is if you can sell it to me for… $10?
Me: (In my mind) You don’t want to insult me? Honey, you just did!
Me: (In reality) *DELETES EMAIL*

The penny-pinchers weren’t just virtual; we got real live specimens at our garage sale, too. Now I’m no stranger to garage sales. We’ve moved a lot so we’ve always had them; a couple of years ago ACS did a really successful one in QC where nearly everything was wiped out.

When you see a crowd made up of maids, tricycle drivers, market vendors with five kids hanging on to their skirt at your sale, you expect to give away things for dirt cheap. What really irks me is that these cheapskates who showed up at our garage sale  drive, were dressed well, wore gold watches and branded bags. And I’m supposed to believe these people can’t afford a frigging Swarovski crystal figurine marked down to $5?

Cheapskate # 1: (Picks up a crystal figurine marked $5) This one got no tail ah.
Marlon: It’s a bear. Bears don’t have tails.
Cheapskate: No. I think should have tail.
Marlon: …
Cheapskate: I think you broke tail. I give you $1.
Marlon: One dollar! Are you kidding?
Cheapskate: Made in China what.

Marlon: Everything’s made in China these days!

Sold! To the man who failed zoology for $3!

Cheapskate # 2: (Picks up an unused H&M shoulder bag) How much is this bag? I buy it for my daughter, she just started her internship.
Me: It’s $19.
Cheapskate: Wah! $19 too expensive.
Me: It’s unused.
Cheapskate: You buy bag outside got cheaper one. I give you $10.
Me: You can’t buy a bag that looks like that for $10.
Cheapskate: Can what. You go OG, they got bag for $10.
Marlon: Okay, go OG then!

Unsold! Nek-nek mo, ni wala ngang H&M sa Singapore noh! 

Cheapskate # 3: (Picks up an unused digital photo frame, still in the box, marked $29) Wah, so small ah. Seven inch only. I want bigger one. I give you $10.
Marlon: You can’t get this small one for $10. How will you get a bigger one for $10?
Cheapskate: Got no stand ah.
Marlon: It’s in the box.
Cheapskate: This one used ah.
Marlon: It’s still in the box.
Cheapskate: My friend say pay $10 only.

Sold! To save sanity and brain cells, a bargain price of $15!

At may pahabol pa yan.

Cheapskate: (Picks up luggage lock, which is not for sale, off the kitchen counter) I buy your frame, you give me this padlock free.
Marlon: What? No!

Sigh. I didn’t want my last memory of Singaporeans as a people to be these penny-pinching vultures. I think I need to go eat some black pepper crab now so Singapore and I can part on warm and fuzzy terms!

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