woensdag 17 september 2014

Of monkeys and mountain goats

Today, while Big Boy J. was climbing up some weird circular play contraption that was clearly meant for children at least twice his age, I affectionately called him a monkey. 

Which sounds fine in English, but pulled me up short, because I wasn't actually speaking English. I was talking Dutch to him. And "little monkey", or "aapje", has a different meaning in Dutch. It's more about adorable naughtiness, or about using legs and arms to hold on tightly to mama or papa, not so much about climbing or running around. 

So, just to balance things out, I called him a "little mountain goat" in English. This is what I used to be called when I was climbing over rocks and in trees as a child. But in the Singaporean context it sounds... Silly. And stubborn. 

Now, J. is both stubborn and adorably naughty, and loves climb everything in sight (including but not limited to S.'s Very Expensive Amplifier And Boxes, the arm rests of all furniture, the dinner table, the piano and the Ikea toy kitchen.) So, he qualifies as a mountain goat and a monkey in both languages. 

And really, I don't know where I'm going with this. Maybe just the fact that in tropical Singapore monkeys are for practical comparisons like climbing and in temperate Netherlands goats are? Whereas less common animals, like goats in Singapore and monkeys in the Netherlands are used to portray more abstract notions of character? 

Or maybe, my brain has been under used recently. 

Below, a picture to illuminate the genetic heritage. 

vrijdag 5 september 2014

Life without live-in helper

What is the major difference between life in Singapore and in the Netherlands, someone asked me recently.

"Live-in help", I told them. They looked at me blankly. 

I tried to explain. 

There is the obvious: every day the house is cleaned, the meals are cooked, the groceries are bought, the laundry is done. 

There is also the peace of mind. if I miss my bus, or need to work late, or want to go to the gym, or go out with man Tamtam, or go to the bathroom by myself, the helper can look after the children. There is always somebody home to mind the house, the dog, the children, to open the door for delivery. 

But the most important thing, for me, is that it makes me a much more pleasant and patient parent. If the children spill their food all over the table and the floor - I don't have to clean it up. If they vomit in their beds, I leave the sheets soaking in the bath tub, and find them clean once I come home from work. After I have put the children to bed, I come back to a tidy living room, with a cup of tea waiting for me on the table, the dishes done and put away. I can focus all my energy, and patience, and love on the children, without any worries niggling away.

My friends don't have children, or at least, not yet two toddlers, one of whom has decided to process and discharge his food in an unusually rapid and liquid way the last few days, meaning several loads of laundry and a lot of scrubbing of surfaces. I am tired.

Because we don't actually employ a helper anymore, as of three weeks ago. There were very good reasons for this at the time, which have changed, and changed again, one of which was the fact that I am no longer fulltime employed. So I am the resident Foreign Domestic Worker (although, due to having given birth to half of the people living in this house, we call that 'mama'). 

And I miss our helper.

But, the funny thing is, I don't miss her, specifically. I thought I would, I really liked her, she fitted our family perfectly, E. and J. adored her, and we shared laughter and tears. 

It is quieter in the house, without her, although she was a quiet, discrete person. It is noisier in the house, without her, because she had a calming influence on the children. Mostly, it is more spacious in the house, because we no longer have to respect a stranger's privacy and boundaries. We no longer have to take into account somebody else's plans and schedules, even though those plans and schedules were about the running of our household. We no longer have to be mindful of our words when talking about our own plans for the future, or opinions of other people. We are no longer confronted with a foreigner's opinions of how we lead our lives and raise our children, however quiet she kept those thoughts. 

My patience is wearing thinner, I nag at man Tamtam and the children about household chores, I am so very tired at the end of every day. The house is, well, not as clean as it was, although I haven't given up just yet. There is a lot more snapping going on. 

But there is also more laughter, and more playing, and more closeness.

Still, very much looking forward to the cleaner coming again on Wednesday. 

woensdag 3 september 2014

Repeating history: The Beach

Way back when I was a toddler in Singapore we would spend our most of our family time at the beach. We would hop in the car, drive over to East Coast Park, meet friends, play in the sand, swim, my father would windsurf, we would have a picknick lunch/dinner and go home again.

"When it was just you, we never went to the beach", said my mother. "But once you have two or three little ones" - my parents would end up having four children - "it's just so much easier to take them to the beach. Sand and water, you entertained yourselves for hours." 

When I was a toddler, Sentosa was already known by its current name, but it wasn't much of a destination. For us, it was always East Coast Park. I distinctly remember the slides at The Big Splash - or maybe the slides at Mitsukoshi Garden? They were FAN-TAS-TIC. Every indoor 'subtropical swim paradise' has been a letdown ever since. 

But nowadays, it's all about Sentosa, not least because of all the entertainment around the island (Universal Studios, the cable car, a casino, a golf course, and the list goes on). But our family doesn't go to any of those 'destinations'. We always end up at one of three spots: Coastes on Siloso Beach, the food court at Palawan Beach or somewhere in the vicinity of Tanjong Beach Club.

This time we decided to go the full expat experience and actually do brunch at Tanjong Beach Club. This was definitely not on the cards when I was young - we brought our own food and did picknicks. Sand is good for digestion, as I've often been told. There was no sand in the brunch at Tanjong Beach Club, and it is nice to be able to strap the children down in high chairs for a bit of peace (but no quiet). It is, however, also costly. 

I remember I was never allowed to swim without a T-shirt, because of the sun and the danger of burning. That certainly has become more high tech - we now know that those T-shirts didn't really make a difference. Luckily, sunscreen has also become more high tech, so my children are no longer slathered in sticky white stuff, which magically attracts most of the beach and brings it home. (Although, I am beginning to suspect it is the children that magically attract the beach and bring it home.) 

Toddler J. was not allowed to swim today, because he has bronchitis - another thing that we used to have a lot of in the eighties, and something which is still very much around today. He ran after all available dogs, only to pedal instantly backwards if they showed any reciprocal interest. Toddler E. did swim, or rather, 'deinde', floated on the slow rolling waves, with me. Man Tamtam is more of a cycling hero than a surfer, and showed off his genius irrigation skills. 

"It's funny", I had remarked to Man Tamtam earlier. "Last year we hardly went to Sentosa in at all, but lately we've been going quite a lot." He just grunted, caught up in building intricate canal systems involving plastic cups and directing his little runners to get buckets of seawater to fill his waterways. 

Before we went home, we had a quick clean-up at the lovely Sentosa public showers, which might have been toddler J.'s favourite bit of the whole outing, especially as he got to share his shower with an enthusiastic puppy.

Some history has no need of change. 

maandag 1 september 2014

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Singapore Night Festival

We took the toddlers to the Singapore Night Festival (the museumnacht) and we learned several important things.

* The Substation is much better at distracting hungry toddlers from their belly pangs than the Peranakan Museum.

* The Peranakan Museum however has a brilliant ledge outside for climbing and dancing.

* Finally, somebody in this family loves spring rolls just as much as mummy does!

* The flying purple trapeze ladies in front of the National Museum were a great hit, as was the tent made out of coloured strings at the festival village and the tiny houses out of white umbrellas on the steps of SOTA.

* But in the end, it was all about the owl shaped fan.

vrijdag 29 augustus 2014

Finally, a triathlon (sprint edition)

Triathlon take away #1: I RULE on a bicycle. Eat my dust, all you intimidating athletic looking females in your fancy triathlon suits.

Triathlon take away #2: I SUCK at transitioning (getting changed between sports). Do other people not mind if they get sand in their shoes? (EWW, gross, no, not going there.)

Triathlon take away #3: It's a fantastic feeling to run hand in hand with the entire family, the three year old beaming with pride in her Elsa T-shirt, man Tamtam carrying a jumping toddler J. on his back, but it didn't say much for my running speed.

Triathlon take away #4: A cycle speed of 28.7 km/hr is apparently not slow, and a running speed of slightly less than 10 km/hr apparently is. I got that backwards.

Triathlon take away #5: I don't know how to swim. But drafting certainly helps.

Triathlon take away #6: I am faster on subsequent laps. Diesel for life!

Triathlon take away #7: No, man Tamtam, it was not because you gave me such a good bike. But the years of indoctrination with cycling lore and training tips came in very handy. (Yes, I listened. I do that sometimes!)

Triathlon take away #8: I will do this again. But maybe a nice cycling race first. I like that zooming feeling.

Triathlon take away #9: Those tight triathlon suits work surprisingly well across a range of body types. (Yes, one intimidating athletic looking female in a fancy triathlon suit, right here, looking awesome.)

Overall: 34th out of 87 finishers.
Swimming (750m): 44
Cycling (18km): 13
Running (5km): 48
Transitioning: 42 and 51 (yes! You get marked for the speed with which you change your shoes!)

ps. Man Tamtam took all these amazing pictures - it's hard to capture a fast-moving target!

woensdag 27 augustus 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: Discounts

Never ever buy anything without a discount, my colleagues told me. Shoes, clothes, washing machines, houses. There is always room for negotiation. And Singaporeans are masters of the art.

Take for instance the property market. Right now is supposed to be a renters' market in Singapore. There's lots of units for rent, lots of landlords desperately looking for nice tenants, there are apparently even short term leases on offer!

But if you go on PropertyGuru, our local funda with all the properties listed for rent or for sale, you won't find any bargains. On the contrary, over the last few months we have steadily seen the advertised rents rise and rise again. 

Then a friend alerted me to this nifty little website, which has a listing of all the ACTUAL rental contracts for units in condo's and properties in Singapore. It's run by the URA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, also responsible for the Singapore Masterplan of building (you can go and have a look at Singapore's future in the Singapore City Gallery near Chinatown).

By now, the prices listed for the units in our condo on propertyguru and the prices actually agreed upon in contracts are roughly a third different, i.e.: what you actually end up paying is two-thirds of what the agent is asking for publicly. 

So, when supply goes up, the price goes up - only to come down again after a discount. The tenant is happy, because they got a discount, the landlord is happy because the discount is less than it could have been. Everybody happy! 

This is in fact a classic negotiation tactic called 'anchoring'. The agent puts up a price, and all discussion from that point onwards will be starting from that anchorpoint. This means that if the original anchor/price on a unit it 5.500 SGD per month, I will feel I have gotten a good deal when the agent drops it to 5.000 SGD per month. Even though I know that similar units have gone for 4.500 SGD! 

Singapore is an expensive city to live in. There are many reasons for this, chief among them land scarcity and a lack of resources. But you shouldn't get your wallet out too soon! 

Being Dutch, we pride ourselves on being sensible with money - but that also means that if we do need something, and if it is good quality, we are prepared to pay the sticker price. We still have this icky feeling about spending too much time and effort on shopping, on something so materialistic, on pure consumerism.

But for Singaporeans, it is quite the opposite. Pure consumerism is the non-thinking way of buying. The Singaporean way of shopping is to go to great lengths to get as much value out of a dollar as possible. Shopping is performance art, and getting the right price an exact science. 

Paying the sticker price - that's for expats. 

maandag 25 augustus 2014

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Reading habits of Toddler J.

There are certain things in life that J. loves. Balls. Music. Food. Running. His sister, usually. And yesterday I realised that his reading habits are a perfect mirror of his other fascinations.

In order of adoration:

"Les instruments du monde" (with sound effects)

"Op een grote paddenstoel" (illustrated children's songs)

("In de maneschijn")

"Puppies" (nearly autobiographical)

"Ollie" (wear and tear due to it being deeply pre-loved by E.)

"Disney's the little mermaid"

No points for guessing this last book. Or J.'s favourite page.

All of these books were gifts, with the exception of "Puppies" - but I only bought that, because J. wouldn't let go of it in the shop and I wanted to leave (incidentally, the same reason why E. has a small Ikea children's lounge chair in her room). So a big heartfelt thanks to Marion, Eva, Ilse, Jasleen and Wies: you clearly know your way around a little boy's mind.