vrijdag 28 september 2012

Belastingpost

Op een dag (in 2011) stuurde de Belastingdienst een waarschuwing naar Huize Tamtam. De aanslag over het jaar 2009 van vrouw bleek bij nader inzien niet correct. Dus zou er een nieuwe aanslag komen. Houd de brievenbus in de gaten, was de boodschap.

Terwijl de vrouw des huizes braaf zat te wachten, besloot het gehele huishouden te verkassen naar elders. In het buitenland. Zonder adres. Dus gaf het huishouden als emigratie-adres op het gemeentehuis het adres op van het hotel waar het de eerste dagen zou verblijven. Het gemeentehuis gaf dit door aan de belastingdienst. De belastingdienst negeerde de brief van het huishouden met het verzoek om een postadres aan te houden. Alleen meldde de belastingdienst dat niet aan het huishouden.

Tien maanden later vroeg het huishouden zich af waarom de dreigende herziene aanslag zich nog niet gematerialiseerd had. De vrouw des huizes belde de belastingdienst. De belastingdienst liet weten dat er al meerdere brieven waren verstuurd. Maar de belastingdienst mocht niet zeggen naar welk adres.

Na lang graven in geheugens herinnerde de man des huizes zich de naam van het hotel. Het gezin toog naar het hotel om de post op te halen. De post was ongeopend retour afzender gestuurd door het hotel. Dat had de belastingdienst niet gemerkt. 

Nu er een voormalig en een huidig adres was, kon er ook een wijziging en een postadres worden gestuurd. Binnen enkele dagen vielen er allerlei brieven op de mat.

Maar geen herziene aanslag. 

De vrouw des huizes belde de belastingdienst opnieuw, met het dringende verzoek om alle post van de tien tussenliggende maanden in duplicaat op te sturen zodat er aan alle rekeningen kon worden voldaan.

De herziene aanslag viel op de mat van het postadres. En werd per ommegaande betaald.

Enkele weken later viel er een nieuwe melding op de mat. Dat er nog ettelijke honderden euro's openstonden. Vanwege het dwangbevel.

Welk dwangbevel?

De vrouw des huizes belde weer met de belastingdienst. Ja, er was ook een dwangbevel verstuurd. Nee, daar was geen duplicaat van verzonden. De belastingdienst kon alleen een verzoek vinden om een duplicaat van de aanslag. Ja, de bezwaartermijn tegen het dwangbevel was inderdaad inmiddels verstreken. Nee, daar kon de belastingdienst verder niks aan doen. Had de vrouw geen kopien van haar brieven bewaard en opnames gemaakt van de telefoongesprekken? Tja, ze kon het natuurlijk altijd nog proberen.

Ik probeer gewoon mijn belasting te betalen. Wij zijn niet De Vijand. Leuker hoeft niet, makkelijker ook niet.

Maar kan het dan in ieder geval wel tijdig en voorzien van alle noodzakelijke informatie? 

donderdag 27 september 2012

Repeating history: going to school

After a short sojourn during my toddler years at "Mrs Goh's school", where I miserably failed to impress anybody with my lack of Mandarin, I turned four and was enrolled in the Hollandse School or Dutch School.

At Mrs Goh's school I got to wear this lovely white floaty dress (most probably a pleated pinafore) and danced around in circles with my class mates. Altough this might have just been the yearly show we put on, as I remember lots of parents watching us benevolently and clapping. Also, in my mind I see us at Mrs Goh's school sitting in rows on the floor. Once, I was asked to sing a song (or, quite possibly, I volunteered). I sang "poesje mauw". Silence ensued.

Current expat favourite among nursery schools is Pat's School House, founded by Mrs Patricia Koh. It's quite unlikely that she was my Mrs Goh, but I do like to think so. Just as I still keep an eye out for a maid agency founder by the name of "Delia", our last amah, who wanted to set up her own shop after we left. Small links to connect the little red dot to my current self.

The Hollandse School has moved house since we moved home. In 1984, the year we left, it left its prime Orchard Road premises and re-established itself in the leafy suburbia of Bukit Tinggi Road, a green hill liberally strewn with modern villa's in large landscaped gardens.

It's a wonderful location, I discovered when visiting neighbouring Dutch nursery school Jip en Janneke to see if it be nice for E. There are four huge class rooms, mixed groups between the ages of 2 and 4 years old, lots of outdoor space with fans and shade and sand and toy cars, lovely bilingual teaching staff, wooden toys and aunties for diaper changing duties and the like. Also: lots of blond children, which might be a good reality check for our little white haired and pampered one.

So yes, it'd be nice for E. It'd also be about a third more expensive than her current preschool and I'd have to let the two year old ride a bus. Which on the one hand sounds lovely (really, walking the same route four times a day does take any charm out of it, especially if half of those times are filled with cajoling the toddler one into actually moving forwards), but on the other hand, she's only two! She'll be on a bus! On her own!

I have vivid memories of riding the bus to school, which include running around, faking notes to teachers to be able to get off at a different stop than my own home, and generally uncivilised behaviour. Lots of fun, yes. Also, the kind of fun that I'm busy pretending I never had to my child.

I'm dithering about the school. That's okay. We like to dither about stuff in the Tamtam household. This is why we still haven't fixed a return date for our trip to the Netherlands even tough I'm leaving next week. We trust our unconscious to come up with answers.

While dithering I went to jog my memory.

Apparently, part of the building the Hollandse School used to occupy is still there, enclosed within the Shangri La Hotel compound. So I took a taxi, went in to the GINORMOUS lobby, past the mooncake stall, down the escalator to the pool and the restaurants, past the hotel wing, through the walkway in between the tennis courts and reached this unassuming building:




Do I recognize this, I wondered. But the question is the answer. No. The school used to be on a hill side with a busy road in front of it, where Sinterklaas would arrive in a riksha (there are no riksha's in Singapore anymore).

So I circled the building, getting buried in tons of old leafs (snakes! spiders! scary!) and almost falling through the grate covering the rain gutters. But then I saw this door and I felt one of those little tugs between myself and the Lion City, silently letting me know, that yes, I have come back. I have roots here.




Even though history will always repeat itself differently.



dinsdag 25 september 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Learning Photography II

I can now shoot pictures in "manual", meaning, that I can now photograph stuff old skool style - you know, setting the shutter speed, setting the aperture, choosing a white balance, picking the ISO. I am very intimidated by the growth of my skill set.

I cannot take pictures of E. in manual, as she moves around, which means I have to re-do all my settings, which means I have to think, which means that she's already off somewhere else jumping into a pool, trying to cross a road, re-programming my mobile into Turkish or filching sweets from Singaporean aunties - all those things that toddlers love to do while their parents blink.

So, I apologize for the boring static pictorial content of this post. However, I'll try to explain a little of the techniques, which might make it slightly less yawn inducing.

Also: there is a picture of ME in this post!



Lesson 1: Photographing with back light.
The trick here is to fake the camera into thinking there is a different exposure than it would guess on its own. (It's not that hard, actually. There's a button for this on the camera.) Basically, point the camera somewhere you think has the right amount of light to take the picture you want. Lock exposure. Focus on your actual object. Click. 
I discovered transparent objects are really hard to get right. 



Lesson 2: Freestyling.
Hold camera in one hand (after having decided on your settings). Stretch out your arm. Point in direction of object. Hope for the best. Click. (Or even better: clickclickclickclickclick to up your chances of getting it right.) This is the only decent picture I managed so far with this technique.



Lesson 2: Stitch panorama.
There was a lot of white balance and gray scale involved in this lesson, but that went over my head a bit. However, I do now know - theoretically - how to take a good panorama picture without those annoying changes in exposure. The trick is to use manual, so your camera won't re-think its settings between clicks, and to use a tripod so you don't move the camera from your chosen viewing point. 



Lesson 3: Portraits and macros.
This is the result of "shooting the scene". We picked a subject (these flowers, in my case) and took literally dozens of pictures of them. I wandered off to another nice flower a couple of centimeters to the left and was sternly directed back to my chosen object by the inspiring, passionate but also quite strict Karen Lucas of Baobab Photography. I got a little frustrated when a slew of pictures turned out, well, really boring, but keeping at it did show me what a wealth of options there are for even the simplest of subjects. If you're interested I could illustrate this point with about 17 lovely pictures (and dozens again that are meh).



Lesson 4: Night photography.
The joy of torches! See how lovely I back lit this leaf to make it look like it's fake? Or at least in a studio with lots of special lighting? But no! It's real! In a garden! All I did was shine a torch light on it from the back, which I moved up and down slowly. Amazing discovery!



Lesson 4: Night photography.
The ingredients: A tripod, slow shutter speed, delayed shutter action to give the pregnant one a chance to get in front of the camera and "2nd curtain" flash, meaning the flash goes off at the end of the exposure time instead of at the beginning.

Run to spot marked by leaf (see feet). Wait for click. Jump. Repeat. Repeat.

"Please stop doing that", said my horrified class mates as I waddled back clutching my belly.

vrijdag 21 september 2012

E. en haar talen

"Aiyoh!", zegt E. misprijzend als we niet snel genoeg opschieten naar haar zin, of als de yoghurt op de tafel lekt.

"Don wan!", roept ze, als we vervolgens de yoghurt opruimen omdat ze er mee loopt te knoeien.

"Dis one, dis one", wijst ze als we haar vragen wat voor kleren ze aan wil.

"Een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, seven, eight, nine, ten!" telt ze hardop. Om dan zo hard mogelijk te roepen: "IK KOM!"

Meestal praat E. Nederlands met ons. Ze zegt "alsjeblieft" ("assebliet"), ze kan heus wel tot tien tellen en ze weet donders goed wat koekjes en rozijnen zijn. We werken nog aan "dank je wel".

Op het kinderdagverblijf praat ze Engels. Ze zegt "please" ("plis"), ze kan tot tien tellen en ze weet heel prima wat biscuits en puffs zijn.

Ze raakt er erg van in de war als ik Engels tegen haar probeer te praten. Dan begrijpt ze niet wat ik zeg ("Flower." "..." "Kijk, flower." "Nee! Bloem!"). Van de weeromstuit raak ik helemaal in de war als ik met andere peuters praat - dan verval ik automatisch in het Nederlands.

Maar laatst ging E. nog een stapje verder in haar taalverwerving - niet alleen secundair, ook tertiair. De assistant teacher die geen Engels spreekt (echt niet, als ik met haar wil communiceren moet ze de receptioniste erbij halen)(hoewel ze het wel begreep toen ik haar complimenteerde met haar bijzonder leuke kanten jurkje van de week) hielp E. met haar schoenen en gaf haar zeep om haar handen te desinfecteren. Dat vindt E. leuk, desinfecteren.

"Sese", zei ze dus blij. Officiele spelling: "Xie xie."

Dat is "dank je wel" in het Chinees.

woensdag 19 september 2012

One year in Singapore

Today is our one year anniversary of Singapore family life.

I wish I had some profound thoughts to share with you. But in describing my mind the words "random" and "useless" are the ones most often used (not just by me, unfortunately). And besides, there's a lot to be said in favour of skating happily on the superficial glacial surface of the unconscious, instead of trying to probe its depth. It's cold and dark down there.

This is what the beginning looked like:

One day during our first week in the Lion City, S. came home to the hotel room where we were staying to find E. and myself asleep, curled up around each other on the floor next to the bed we hadn't managed to crawl into. Outside the F1 cars were screaming through the streets, inside we were huddled together underneath layers of clothing and bed covers, as the aircon blasted icy air on full power, oblivious of my fiddling with its knob.

Life has gotten better since:

Just now E. woke up from her nap, has dropped out of bed and is wobbling around the living room on unsteady, sleep filled legs. I sit at the computer typing this post, mentally going through the list of things I need to do before E.'s playdate at her friends' R., where S.'ll pick her up because I have my photography class tonight. My lack of interest is not to E.'s liking. She flounces off. As she walks away from me, I pout, causing her to scream with laughter, turn, run and throw herself into my arms. "Ow", I say winded. "Careful with the baby." "Baby kiss", she says and kisses my belly. Then she walks off, repeating the sequence until a sudden thought pops into her head. "Mama smoothie?"

So I'm off on a house search for almost-rotten-oh-so-juicy fruit to mash into lumpy puree'd - excuse me, smooth - oblivion with my trusted imported Braun hand mixer and serve to my child after which we will go swimming. We are living the tropical life.

dinsdag 18 september 2012

Dragons, careers, and the Chinese zodiac

I have not one but two (two!) wonderful picture posts in the making.

The key word in that sentence is obviously "making". They are not finished yet. Quite apart from that, I have managed to stretch Google's pictorial hospitality to the max and am no longer allowed to upload pictures (this is due to the fact that I never bothered to downsize anything). So agonizingly slowly I am replacing the old, HUGE files with tiny ones, so that I can keep everybody's favourity hobby of Blondie watching going.

So, time for a completely random post!

It so happens that I came across the astrological career, work and love predictions for this year based on the Chinese zodiac. And guess what? Horses, my 1978 sign, are having a rotten year career wise. In the polite and circumspect way of the Chinese the prediction writers advised me to: "increase income and curb expenditure". But basically, this is one bollocky year. As is born out by reality. But: even the Chinese year is half over by now! Yay!

S.'s year is a bit better but not much. At least we've managed to increase income and curbing expenditure by coming to Singapore on an expat package. And we've gotten me pregnant, which is also advised in the column "love". A newborn will apparently relieve us of work and career related anxiety.

Closer reading revealed suspicious similarities across all signs of the zodiac for the love&family column: if born in the early nineties or late eighties: this is your year to get married. If born in the early eighties or late seventies: get thee with child this year.

It's a dragon year, which is supposed to be a year of general benevolence, luck and lotsamoney. (Apart from Horses (me), Dogs (S.) and Tigers (E.) apparently.) New businesses, new relationships, new everything will be filled with the luck of the dragon. Also: new people. The dragon is the best zodiac sign around, and it's not coming back for another 12 years! So there's a baby tsunami happening this year.

This has practical implications as well. Our gynaecologist made the appointment for my 20 week ultrasound 15 weeks in advance, due to "lack of availability". I was also booked into a private ultrasound clinic instead of the hospital's own one, since that one was already fully booked (not only are many ethnically Chinese people not averse to getting on the good side of the zodiac, they like to do so as cheaply as possible).

A lot of people are taking this whole zodiac thing quite seriously in these parts.

In other random Chinese superstition news: apparently having a girl first and a boy second is very very good, as the character for "daughter" followed by the character for "son" actually forms the word "good" in Mandarin.

So, quite coincidentally, we're doing everything right this year. Aren't we lucky!

And before I leave, let's hear it for the roosters, as according to the predictions: "Miracles will definitely happen this year. Interpersonal relations is also good." Go cock-a-doodle-doo!

vrijdag 14 september 2012

Kunst en kinderen

Zeven peuters stonden vanmiddag in de woonkamer enthousiast te schilderen. Vooral op papier, maar ze deden niet moeilijk en namen ook stukjes tafel, vloer, krant, zichzelf en elkaar mee. De artistieke en ervaren N. had direct na binnenkomst de muren afgeplakt met tekenpapier, een weldaad voor de gemoedsrust.

Ik had de Arts Playdate zelf bedacht. En zelf alle zeventien tubes verf gekocht. En het krijt onder handbereik klaar gezet. En een cake gebakken, voor de mama's (de excuuspapa had afgezegd). Soms denk ik niet zo heel goed na voor ik een enthousiast plan uitvoer.

E. doet de laatste tijd niets liever dan tekenen. Ons huis hangt vol met bladen met rondjes, katten, huisjes, auto's, vierkanten, driehoeken, eekhoorns (niet onverdienstelijk gefabriceerd door vaders en moeders Tamtam) en veelkleurige krassen (met veel plezier en weinig respect voor de fabrieksels van haar ouders aangebracht door E.). Van het kinderdagverblijf krijgen we wekelijks allerhande creatieve uitspattingen die ik keurig ophang en na verloop van tijd opberg in een voor dat doel gedecoreerde bewaardoos. (Tamtam II heeft er ook alvast eentje, met echofoto's.) 




E. heeft zelfs al Kunst gecreeerd in Musea - Singapore kampt net als alle andere ontwikkelde landen ter wereld met de Zomervakantie en Dichte Scholen, en staatsinstituten en winkelcentra dragen allemaal hun steentje bij door gedurende die periode allerhande kindervriendelijke activiteiten te ondernemen. Het Singapore Arts Museum (moderne kunst) vermeldde expliciet dat kinderen van ALLE leeftijden welkom waren, dus togen E. en ik daarheen, om ons te laven aan octopussen met lichtjes die reageren op beweging, tekenfilms die groeien naarmate je harder schreeuwt (laat dat maar aan E. over) en een blacklight tuin van origami. Al hadden we dat alles bijna niet gezien omdat ik E. niet weggesleurd kreeg bij de tekentafel.



 
Zelfs toen we zondag taart gingen eten bij de galerie-in-het-voormalige-zwembad-tegenover-ons-huis wist E. de curator dusdanig te charmeren dat ze een doorzichtig velletje kreeg en hittebestendige kleurstiften, waarna haar plastic creatie de oven in verdween om er vervolgens als sleutelhanger weer uit te komen.  (Het hing vol met artistieke ansichtkaarten dachten we, maar de kaarten bleken kunstwerken te zijn, varierend van prijs van 10 Sing dollar tot 12.001 Sing dollar - na die ontdekking zijn we vrij haastig weer vertrokken.) 

Het leek me zo leuk als E. ook eens thuis zo lekker creabea aan de slag kon gaan. Met mij.

Het leek me ook zo'n enorme troep geven.

Dus toen kwam ik op het lumineuze idee om de troep de moeite waard te maken door heel veel peuters lekker creabea bezig te laten zijn in mijn huis. 




De moeders vonden het allemaal erg dapper. En ze vonden mijn zelf gebakken cake lekker (al gingen de gekochte taarten die ze zelf hadden meegebracht een stuk sneller op). En met vereende krachten hebben we het huis weer schoon gekregen, al probeerde ik dat enthousiast weg te wuiven. "Nee joh, ik ruim straks wel op."

Maar ik was zelf nooit op het idee gekomen om tandpasta te gebruiken om krijt van de muur te halen (dat werkt!) Dus stiekem was ik wel blij dat ze bleven. En ik heb nu heel veel taart. Dus excuseert mij, ik moet wat ruimte gaan creeeren in onze koelkast.

donderdag 13 september 2012

My body, your body, whose body?

"Pregnancy can make women feel very low, especially the first time round", my adored yoga teacher whispered at me in her soft considerate American voice (has anyone else noticed how Americans have the nicest, most friendly voices in the world? Especially if they teach yoga/talk to babies/ask if there's anything they can help you with?).

I nodded.

Then a light bulb came on over my head.

I remember how I felt my body had been kidnapped by an alien when E. was growing inside me. Not least because from 20 weeks onwards I could actually see my belly move, which is a really freaky sight that S. even the second time round has not quite gotten used to. Picture me, leisurely reading a newspaper in a room with all windows shut. The paper rustles. I keep still. The paper rustles again. I move the paper and look at my protruding belly, where said paper had been resting. A little submarine is making the rounds, trying to find a place to poke its periscope up to the surface. Scary.

But it wasn't just the fact that I was sharing my body with another human being - a human being I had no control over. (I still don't, but it's much easier to accept now that she is physically separate from me as well as mentally.)

It was also that my OWN body seemed to prefer the new baby.

I used to do a fair bit of sports. Now, there is no reason why pregnant women cannot enjoy sports as much as they like - the key is to listen to your body. But my body told me around 16 weeks in that it did NOT enjoy sports. And it did that by making me feel like I needed to pee ALL THE TIME. At first I thought it was a bladder infection, but a trip to the doctor ruled that out. As it turns out, this was my first conscious encounter with the muscle group known euphemistically as "pelvic floor" and not, more truthfully, as "providers of pee-related problems".

Also, I started eating foods that I didn't necessarily like so much, in fact, had for health and skinniness reasons basically banned from my diet: Fries. Crisps. Pizza. You know, fatty, salty stuff. Unfortunately, I also still really enjoyed the sugar- and carb based food groups. And my body was happily providing me with stomach space to spare.

Then there was the sleeping. I've always been a good sleeper - but that wasn't to last. Not only did my back once again started aching, but somehow I slept very lightly during the night, only falling into deep, restful sleep around 6 am. Thankfully I was self employed, so I moved my schedule and started work at 10 am instead of 8 am, thereby ensuring some more lovely sleep. But still. I thought the whole sleep deprived thing would start after birth (it did get a lot worse, mind).

But it wasn't until the yoga teacher mentioned it, that I realised that this time round, I feel a lot less invaded by a body snatcher.

As soon as I got pregnant, I stopped running (the last time I ran, I could already feel the pelvic ones getting good and ready for some serious peeing issues) and took up cycling instead. Then I got too tired for the cycling, but kept on walking. Then my back started hurting, so I went to prenatal yoga (which works a treat, contrary to my earlier comments!) I'm eating crisps by the boat load, but have cut cookies and cake out of the diet. I've even started napping as sleeping beyond 6.30 am is so luxurious and rare with a toddler alarm  clock we prefer to be awake to enjoy it.

Basically, this time round I'm going with the flow, instead of trying to preserve some semblance of myself.

And it makes life much easier and more enjoyable. (Comparatively lighter on the scales as well.)

ps. First time round I didn't mind the heat thing at all - for months on end I finally got to experience what life is like with warm hands! - but apparently in Singapore there's a whole aircon-based subculture for third trimester carriers. Will know more in a few weeks time.

dinsdag 11 september 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: learning photography

I have been the proud owner of a digital DSLR camera for all of nine months. However, since we are talking about a Seriously Impressive Piece of Equipment here, I needed something to boost my confidence enough to actually use it. Enter the photography courses. Yes - I am in the midst of a second course, seriously contemplating a third as well. And you know? The more I learn, the more I know I know nothing. Thank you  Socrates for pointing that out!

But I thought I could show you a little of what I've learned. This post I'll show you the best of my homework for the beginners' course, taught by Karen Lucas of Baobab Photo (she is a fantastic teacher and a passionate photographer - however, if you're not in Singapore and thus not able to avail yourself of her services, you might look into this online course by multi-talent Eun Leij).



Lesson 1: Still life. Note how the focus is on the flower of the sandal (which is lying on a beach in Borneo). The sandals have since died, but at least I have this lovely picture. 
Settings: Av (aperture priority) - aperture 5.6 - shutter speed 1/100s - ISO 250 - focal length 53.


Lesson 2: Portrait. What you do not see in this picture, are my feet keeping the lovely E. in place. I had set up the whole thing and tried out the lighting with a teddy bear as per instructions, but my model just wouldn't stay put. And I couldn't move without throwing all my carefully designed settings of. Thankfully, Karen also taught us the value of continuous shooting ("clickclickclickclickclick"). 
Settings: Av (aperture priority) - aperture 5.6 - shutter speed 1/125s - ISO 400 - focal length 75.


Lesson 3: Action. I have frozen a fountain in this picture without having to have my genes altered. Ha, beat that, X-men. (Actually, as you can tell from the background, it was way too dark to take this picture properly. That's also why the ISO is ridiculously high. But since I just wanted the drops clearly defined, it worked anyway.)
Settings: Tv (shutter speed priority) - aperture 5 - shutter speed 1/320s - ISO 6400 - focal length 44.


Still Action - this is called "panning", where you move your camera at approximately the same speed as the vehicle or moving figure and go "clickclickclickclickclick" like a fanatical sports photographer. I'm not very good at it. But the five of us clicking away certainly made these guys' day!
Settings: Tv (shutter speed priority) - aperture 20 - shutter speed 1/30s - ISO 100 - focal length 18.


Lesson 4: Night shooting, or: painting with light! Fun fun fun! This is called a "zoomburst" - while photographing I zoomed out. This is possible because of the slooooow shutter speed and because nothing needed to be sharp or clear cut in the picture. (It is a picture of Coleman Bridge.)
Settings: Tv (shutter speed priority) - aperture 8 - shutter speed 1s - ISO 800 - focal length 135.


Lesson 5: Repeat everything on location (I made that up). We went to Little India and practised everything we had learned so far. My most gorgeous picture is actually a portrait of a fellow student sitting in front of bags of red onions (it looks much better than it sounds), but I really shouldn't slather pictures of other people all over the internet without their permission. This picture however I love as well - the assignment was to think of a theme and go out and take five pictures. My theme was "ton sur ton" - shades of the same colour found together on different objects. These are broomsticks against adjoining walls. (Yes, Little India is my kind of colour paradise.)(All right, so I moved the broom sticks to make a prettier picture.)
Settings: Av (aperture priority) - aperture 5 - shutter speed 1/1600s - ISO 800 - focal length 48.


Later, in Little India, candles in a temple.
Settings: Av (aperture priority) - aperture 5.6 - shutter speed 1/80s - ISO 1600 - focal length 135 - exposure bias +0.3step.

vrijdag 7 september 2012

Netwerken en afwachten

Het is september. En al merk ik hier weinig van de seizoenen, behalve dan dat mijn vrienden weergekeerd zijn in de stad in het kielzog van de hongerige spoken, toch heeft me dat een tikje aangestoken. Want sinds deze week ben ik trots lid van zowel het professionele vrouwennetwerk Primetime (op aanraden van de Italiaans-Mexicaans-maar-uiteindelijk-Amerikaanse R.) en het Singaporese Mums@Work (met name actief op Facebook, zoals het hele ondernemersleven zich hier op Facebook lijkt af te spelen - wellicht een uitwas van een ultieme diensteneconomie?).

Waarom - in vredesnaam - nu, vroeg ik mezelf deze week af. Ik ben vijf maanden zwanger van een tweede kind. We kunnen er gevoeglijk vanuit gaan dat het komend jaar niet 'mijn' jaar gaat worden wat betreft carriere. We weten nog niet eens zeker waar het nieuwe kindje geboren gaat worden, laat staan dat het handig is om nu een eigen bedrijf leven in te gaan blazen. 

En toch. Zoals S. steeds zegt: "Je moet leven alsof we de komende tien jaar in Singapore blijven." Wat hij bedoelt is dat ik niet moet zitten afwachten wat de komende maanden brengen. Dat ik niet moet stilstaan, totdat er meer zekerheid is. En ons leven van de afgelopen jaren overziend, is dat een heel verstandig advies. De beslissing om van Groningen naar Utrecht te verhuizen was in een wip genomen. Dat ik daar vervolgens zes jaar zou blijven hangen, het langst dat ik in twee decennia achter elkaar in dezelfde stad heb gewoond, had ik nooit voorzien. 

Mijn nieuwe bedrijfsnaam heb ik al maanden geleden bedacht. Die is totaal ongeschikt voor Singapore, maar dat interesseert me eigenlijk niet zo heel erg - dan kort ik het wel af. Het logo, een zelfbewerkte foto (dank, fotocursus!) staat sindsdien al onder elke nieuwsbrief. 

En vorige week heb ik eindelijk mijn hoofd uit het zand getrokken en uitgezocht hoe het nu eigenlijk zit met belasting betalen in Nederland en Singapore. Dat leidde tot verrassende en werktechnisch enthousiasmerende conclusies. 

Het leven, mijn leven, laat zich niet sturen. Dus ach, laat ik mijn bootje dan ook maar gewoon roeien tot ik op de volgende zandbank stuit. Zo oeverloos dobberen is ook maar niks.

woensdag 5 september 2012

EZ Link and AXS: a balm for the harried soul

The other day I went to pick up a book from the library. I paid the reservation fee with my EZ Link card. An EZ Link card is practically the same as an OV chip card or Oyster card, for those more versed in London public transport: a swipe 'n ride pass for public transport.

Except I can also use it to pay for taxi's.

And for library fees. 

And for the swimming pool.

And ice cream on the way home.

And, apparently, for all things educational and university-related (including, but not limited to, graphic novels and comics).

I don't even have to sign, remember a pin or even to take it out of my wallet - I just swipe. And no Visa-fees or interest rates involved either. When the money's gone, it's gone, no evil credit card company with small print lurking in the shadows. Topping up is almost as effortless, possible at any MRT station or AXS machine. Anybody can buy a card, all it takes is a S$5 dollar deposit - no registration needed either. It's the smoothest, most unbelievably easy way of going about money business I've ever known.

Speaking of AXS machines - those are brilliant too. They look a little like an ATM, except you usually put money in instead of taking it out. But that's all right, since the money might go towards such diverse necessities as the payment of fines (no hassle with cheques or letters or the horror of actual visits to actual government offices), the reservation of BBQ pits at national parks, the topping up of your EZ Link card, hospital bills, electricity bills or the phone bill.

Or, indeed, your credit card bill.

The machines do not keep a timetable, are widely available and accept almost all cards and, I think, cash. They have handy screens with equally handy guides in large print for people like me who prefer to be led step by tiny baby step through official type processes. And if you don't feel like leaving the house, the AXS website will perform most of the services rendered by the machine as well.

It's just so easy to take care of business in Singapore. 



ps. EZ Link - easy link and AXS Machine - Access machine... Geddit?

dinsdag 4 september 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Hungry Ghost Festival

S. took me to the 1Altitude Bar, his favourite rooftop bar in Singapore situated on top of a 282m tall office tower near his, only slightly lower, working quarters. As I stood admiring the view (and the purple and pink sparkly ties worn presumably under duress by the serious looking biceps sporting guys posted around the edge) I wondered if it was always so hazy.

"There's forest fires in Sumatra", S. said with an airy wave of his hand. (He can still drink alcohol.)

The next day, back on the ground and on my way to pick up E., I noticed lots of people putting out ginormous quantities of food* and burning stuff in the street. Then I realized: it's the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Chinese believe, according to what I've picked up so far, that during the 7th month of the lunar calender (which would be now) the Gates of Hell are open and the souls of the dead roam the earth. Apparently, these ghosts are hungry and need to be appeased.

There are also puppet shows, operas and comedy performances put on for the ghosts to enjoy - living souls are allowed to watch as well, but the front row is reserved for the visiting souls. In temples and houses rituals are observed to honour ancestors and to absolve them of (possible) misdeeds so they might return to a higher realm instead of the lower one they came from originally.

It's generally thought not to be a great time for new beginnings, as the ghosts might interfere - they might move into your new house, or new office, and get so comfortable they won't leave again at the end of the month. Also, the ghosts don't appreciate their offerings to be taken or used by the living, which is fair.

But how to explain to E. that all the lovely red joss sticks stuck in the ground at random intervals, not to mention the cake and cookies lying around unsupervised are not meant for toddler entertainment?

*So, what do Singaporean ghosts like to eat? Everything and anything really, but they are apparently particularly fond of (according to my not very extensive survey i.e. what I saw en route to daycare): pineapples, Milo, soy sauce, oil, cake, oranges, cookies and milk.