23 Mar

Evil minion no more

I quit my job last week.

Hold on, Nicky, what? You don’t work in Singapore, what are you talking about?

So you might remember when we moved here, I took a leave of absence from my job at the Evil Empire. No? Okay. When we moved here, I took a leave of absence from my job at the Evil Empire. We weren’t sure how we’d go in Singapore, or how long we’d stay. What if we hated it? What if Dave decided the executive life wasn’t for him? When we came back to Melbourne I’d need a job again. Best not to get rid of the one I had if I could help it.

I hat a massive amount of long-service leave racked up, so I took that at half pay for about 18 months, and topped it up with a leave of absence. That took me through to around February of last year. When it was obvious at the end of 2016 that we wouldn’t be going home yet I tried to organise working from the Singapore office, but it didn’t work out. Instead they extended my leave as long as possible, which took us right up to… last Wednesday.

And I’m still here.

I have to hand it to my work, they were very good letting me put htis off as long as possible. They kept asking me, have you decided what you want to do? And I kept saying, I would love to come back to work but I’m in Singapore and you are in Australia and unless you decide to let me work from here (hint, hint) I can’t see that I have any options other than (a) move back to Aus or (b) quit, and they’d say, uh-huh, great! Well you have until the 14th to let us know!

Honestly, it was obvious for ages what I needed to do. And it shouldn’t have been such a big deal, except I was scared. I’ve had that job for almost my entire adult life. It’s always been there, I’ve always had a means of supporting myself. Marriages fail here all the time; I liked knowing I had a backup plan. Now to be without that… actually, in some ways it might be a good thing to not be able to fantasise about running away whenever it gets bad. But it’s also scary to be without that safety net, and that identity. If I’m not longer an Evil Minion, who am I?

They did make very nice noises about finding me something when we come back. Of course, there are normally staff freezes etc etc, so I take that with a grain of salt. The best thing I can do for myself now is to get another job here, to make me even more irresistible. But do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done a proper, external, job interview? Decades. And while I’m a techy I’m not really a techy techy; I wouldn’t say I’m a programmer, or a database admin, or a business analyst, or a support person. I’ve done all those things, I’m somewhere in between. Most of my value to the Evil Empire came from my knowledge and experience. There aren’t many places that need that in Melbourne, which is one of the many reasons I stayed. But here, there are plenty of places I could work. I just have to get out there and be brave. Who will I be next?

 

lanterns, Holland Village

06 Mar

the easy life is not so easy

It’s that time of year again: another batch of friends have left Singapore. Before Christmas three of my wine book club, fully half of it, left to go back to Melbourne. Others left too, at the same time or just after; it’s a great time of year for Australians in particular to go home, the start of the school year. Another family, people I really liked, are leaving at Easter. Maybe there’s even more that I don’t know about yet, because you often don’t get more than a couple of months notice for a work move.

You have to keep on top of people here. If you’re on the sort of casual, I like spending time with you but doesn’t life get crazy schedule that works back home, you might completely miss the news and then poof they’re going. And you have to be happy for them, if you are a good friend, but in your mind you’re clutching at their ankle screeching, “NOOOOOO! How can you LEAVE MEEEEEEEE?”

Amazingly, not many people outside of your immediate family make life decisions based on what you want.

Then you have to start the cycle of making new friends all over again. But what if you meet someone, and they seem great, but then they tell you they’re going midyear? Do you just rub them off the mental blackboard? Oh well, not much point making the effort there. I’ll be honest, I’ve done that before. It’s a good way to protect yourself from the sadness when a friend goes. But it’s also a good way to miss out. Because what if you really get along? Sure, they’ll leave and they could end up anywhere: Italy, Tokyo, Toronto, Ireland, but then you’ll know someone who lives there. It’s really cool knowing people all over the world. And as a fellow expat, who knows what the future holds? You could end up in the same place again.

You have to work at friendships here, really make the effort to keep catching up, which is hard for an introvert like me. But if you don’t, you end up feeling like a Larry No Mates because it’s your birthday and you”d like to go out to dinner but the two people you know are busy. Even an introvert like me hates that.

*

A couple of months ago, I ended up at the doctor’s because my anxiety and depression flared up way more than normal. I was having Bad Thoughts, really bad, of a kind I haven’t had for many years, and it scared the crap out of me. So I went to the doctor and he prescribed antidepressants and gave me a referral to a psychologist, and I’m working on stuff.
I don’t know what caused it. Is it hormonal? I was diagnosed with PMDD in the past, but it’s been fine for ages. There is no Why, or maybe there are a thousand mini-Whys. I had a feeling of isolation, of being useless. I remember thinking I would lift right out of this family with no ill effects. I don’t work, I don’t do housework, the only thing I really do is kid homework and bedtimes, and that’s easily replaced. I figured I could disappear and no one would notice.  Hell, I didn’t even think it was worth going to the doctor. What’s the point? I said to Dave. I’m just going to be wasting his time. What will I even say to him? And again when I got my prescription filled. These are really expensive here. We’ll need to do a cost benefit analysis to see if they’re worth it. Between sanity and not sanity? he asked. No, between me and not-me. It just seemed like too much effort to go to.
But then someone I knew lost a friend to suicide and I saw how it really affected her. I remembered another friend, whose dad committed suicide when she was little and how it still tore her up, and, I couldn’t do that to B. So I went to the doctor, and I cried, and now I take my antidepressants and monitor my moods and try to do things that give me joy like exercise and hobbies and I’m doing ok now, except that I still don’t know why it happened in the first place.

*

The moral of the story is: living here is amazing and wonderful, but it can be lonely too. You have to look after yourself, . Those book club ladies, I didn’t see them that much outside of book club but I liked them, and I liked our catchups, and now there’s a gap in my social life. But the other half of the group are still here, and I also really like them. So I’m going to swallow my shyness, and reach out, to all my friends, not just the ones that are here. This is going to be my challenge for this year, to be better at this.
12 Oct

the lost art of letter writing

I’ve just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer. Set in post-WWII London and Guernsey, it’s written in the form of letters between characters. I wasn’t sure about that at first (it’s always hard to suspend disbelief that they could be collated from so many different sources), but it was delightful and very funny to read comments in passing about things that weren’t directly mentioned. Of course it’s from a time before even telephones made communication easy, so this was the only way to communicate. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as charming today. Good lord, imagine a contemporary one made out of emails and texts, emojis and dick picks. Shudder.

Dear Sidney,
Don’t believe the newspaper reports. Juliet was not arrested and taken away in handcuffs. She was merely reproved by one of Bradford’s constables, and he could barely keep a straight face.

I only had a couple of niggles with it. The first is the title; I’m sure the “potato peel pie” was only added to the name of the society to give the book a cutesey name, because it was very quickly explained and barely mentioned again. The second is that despite the main character mentioning that she’d learn that Guernsey was “roughly 7 miles long and 5 miles wide, with a population of 42,000”, the book reads like there’s maybe a couple of dozen people there max.

Dear Mark,
I’m sorry that our conversation ended badly last night. It’s very difficult to convey shades of meaning while roaring into the telephone…

Despite that, it was a delight and I very much recommend it if you are looking for something delightful. It made me want to live in post-war Guernsey, grow vegetables, and write long involved letters to my loved ones (but in email form, because I’m not that inspired). Hey, maybe that’s what I’m doing right now?

A while ago, I read another book, The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. I suppose it’s another light fluffy novel, but I’d just read something heavy for book club and needed to cleanse my palate. It is set in Kent just before the start of WWI, and it is full of people with large houses throwing parties and living beautifully, with long conversations which seem inconsequential but so full of the sorts of cutting remarks and hilarious asides I wish I could make.

“I was referring to her respectful manners,” said Mrs Turber. “Something some of us could no doubt learn from.”

“Touche, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice. “You are right, of course, and I am a shrew.”

“The royal family indeed,” said Mrs Turber. “I’ve never been so shocked.”

“Then I am doubly sorry, for I know you are a woman who is often shocked, Mrs Turber,” said Beatrice.

I came away from it saying things like “that’s jolly bad luck”, and wishing I had enemies to be so very politely vicious to. I’m sick (again) at the moment, and I’m rereading it because it’s so lovely even if you know things are soon going to take a turn for the worse. The writer also wrote Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and from the looks of it that’s going to the top of my very long To Be Read list.

“I had better get in a few supplies,” said Agatha. “You know I like to be prepared… I’ll expect you to go to Fortnum and Mason on your way to the office and put in a  respectably small order for immediate delivery.”

“I should get a few things for town too,” said John. “My club dinners are bad enough in time of peace. A stock of Gentlemen’s Relish and some potted oysters should see me through some months of hostilities.”

See, now, that’s the spirit! Have you been reading anything good lately? Write me a letter.

05 Jun

Colds and flu and marshmallows, oh my

So after the last entry I promised myself I would write every day to knock the rust off and post a couple times a week, and then I promptly got sick and since then it’s been a merry-go-round of sinusitus and kidney infections and antibiotics and another dose of the flu etc etc etc. Sometimes B joined me for a spin, sometime it was Dave (and obviously the merry-go-round spun so much faster then), but for a solid month it was mostly me and I am fucking over it.

Then once I finally managed to get off it was B’s turn; she’s missed days of school for the last three weeks with unspecified illness. When I asked her what hurt she said her stomach, her head, her knees and elbows… at this point she got a lecture about believable exaggerations… The doctor thinks it may have been a low-grade gastro flu and prescribed probiotics. It seemed to get better but now she has a cold.

I’m really hoping this is the last of it because I’m starting to get worried about her. Before we went to the doctor I was thinking maybe it was a psychological reaction to something happening at school (she doesn’t get on with one of the girls), and I’m still worried it might be food sensitivities. That would really suck. She is the ultimate picky eater already, so eliminating things from her diet will not be fun. She also seems to have inherited my ability to deal with pain, which is to say she has none at all. She treats her body like it’s made of delicate glass: every scratch, every bruise, every almost-injury is announced in the most serious of tones. I think some of this comes with the age, she’s not damaged herself much yet so she doesn’t realise what will heal.

So that’s what’s been happening over here.

Acouple of weekends ago was the school’s Dads’ Camp, and Bianca miraculously managed to be well enough to go to it. At Dads’ Camp the dads take the kids to St John’s Island just off Singapore and (you’ll never guess) camp out. Bianca had been looking forward to it for ages, since she’d heard you could toast marshmallows over a fire. (Why you need a campfire in Singapore was never explained.) There is no potable water, cold showers only, and you have to take your own toilet paper. The morning she was leaving she told me she wished it was also mums’ camp, and I laughed in her face. In her face.

The camp is only for 25 hours, which doesn’t seem long enough and yet at the same time I found myself at a loose end. What to do with myself with all this time? I hadn’t organised anything with friends, and there were no chick flicks on at the movies. In the end I took myself out for katsu curry for dinner, then did my mandarin homework without anyone laughing at me and stayed up far too late watching iZombie. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to party.

Then it was Sunday, and time to collect them from the ferry. David hadn’t slept because it was too hot, said “never again,” and fell into bed for the afternoon as soon as he’d showered all the old sweat off. B said, “it shouldn’t count as camping because we were in a building not tents, but it was awesome and I want to go every year!” She looked like she’d been living rough for a month, and when I’d finished washing her there was a black ring around the bath. I think she knows how to party too.

20 Apr

Melbourne love

Ooh, I had SUCH a good time last week! We moved the tour down to Melbourne, staying with Dave’s sister and her two daughters, Bianca’s favourite people in the world EVER, which meant I barely saw B at all for the whole week.

B and Weewee (not her real name, surprisingly) went to childcare together, are four months apart in age, and have always had a special bond. It was so cute watching them run around together holding hands and sleeping in the same bed. It was also nice because I was not needed at all, so was able to go out and have some fun guilt-free. Seriously, when we were on the way to the airport on Sunday Bianca said, “Mum you’ve got black on your nails,” and I said, “yes, I had that done on MONDAY.” Shows how much notice she took of me in that time.

I was a little more organised this time so we managed to see way more people than normal, and I feel so much more nourished and loved for it. On the first Sunday Dave went with some friends into the city to shoot virtual reality zombies at Zero Latency, which he said was FRICKING AMAZING. Afterwards the pizza evening we were supposed to have with one family of friends turned into a massive impromptu party with all the families, and it was just brilliant. I also had dinners out with other friends (who dropped the bombshell that they’re moving to Canberra in a week so great timing!), a day of fun with my bestie Bec, another day catching up with mulitudes from work, more friends, more fun, and we even went to see Madness in concert. Dave’s favourite band ever just happened to be in town when we were, and verily it was great.

(this isn’t the best picture of the band, but look at all the other screens in the audience. Some people basically recorded the whole show.)

Dave actually had the week off which was nice, but he was also stressed because all the women in his family seem to have come to the end of their warranty periods. Both sisters had some health scares that had them going in for procedures on the Tuesday and Wednesday, and on the Thursday his mum had a scheduled surgery which went well but she wasn’t released from hospital until Easter Sunday. Everyone is fine and everything went well but it was a bit stressful during the week for him.

But at least he got to be there for it, I think he feels better for that. And we both got to spend lots of time with family and friends that we love. My heart is full. My clothes also are full, because we ate and drank a LOT. And now we are back home, in the warmth, in our condo which feels like a resort, and I’m feeling pretty good.

I wish there was a magic door between Singapore and Melbourne. That would solve a whole lot of problems.

07 Apr

the family visit drinking game

School holidays. This week we have been in Ballarat, visiting my mother. To be honest, I was dreading this. I like the idea of being home, in the familiar, spending time with my mum and all affection that entails, but you and I both know from past experiences that these things never go so well.  I know it’s my fault. I react, I argue, I try to change how she acts, and it never works.

So this time I’m trying something new. I’m staying detached, I’m not engaging with her. Smile and nod, smile and nod, go to my happy place, and if it gets too much (like when my aunts came over, and the opinions reached critical mass) leave the room. And if it’s really bad, that’s where my duty free bottle of Bailey’s comes in. Instead of saying anything, I go take a swig. It’s like a fucking drinking game. Council rates too high for no reason? Drink. Bitchy gossip about a relative? Drink! Homophobia/racism/discussions about how her iPad works? Drink! Drink! Drink!

I did pretty well, I didn’t even start the game until day 4, but it’s now day 7 and my bottle is empty and I still have 12 hours to go. It was the discussion about upgrading her iPad that did me in. Did you know it has the GBs? But not enough GBs. So she keeps getting messages about needing to put more of the GBs in. You can get a thing to do the thing and the other thing.  I didn’t say anything, not after the time I’d said she didn’t really understand how data worked on her mobile phone and she rolled her eyes hard enough to dislocate them and said, “Oh here we go, yes I’m just stupid and you know everything, I’m sorry I asked.” Come to think of it, that was what started the game in the first place.

So the bottle didn’t last to the end of the visit, which probably means I lost, but on the other hand there was no screaming, and there were no tears, so maybe everyone won.

*

It has been nice being back home though. I do love Ballarat. As a town it’s big enough to feel like it has everything you need, but small enough to feel homey and nice. We have some lovely friends here, whom we normally don’t get to see anywhere near enough, but this week we’ve spent quite a bit of time together and it’s been wonderful. They are very much our people. I would love to live in Ballarat just to be close to them. If only the trains would make commuting more viable. Theoretically there is a fast train that should make the commute not much longer than we had when we lived in Melbourne, but Dave tried it this week and not one day did it run on time.

(Actually that reminds me, way back in the day I suggested we could live in Ballarat and Dave could work in Melbourne, staying in town during the week in a little studio apartment in the city, and he said, “nooo, I could not be aways from you that long.” And then I brought it up again a couple of months ago, and he said, “hmm, that could work!” WHAT CHANGED?)

Of course, one person is missing. It was so strange coming up here, knowing I wouldn’t see Pete this time round, or any time. There’s a massive hole here where he used to be.

*

Next week (tomorrow (I can make it)): Melbourne, more family, lots more friends, lots to do. I’m really looking forward to it.

13 Mar

Hapless

The day after we moved house, one of my oldest, dearest friends died. Pete and I had been friends from university; and even back then he was just that little bit smarter than me; a little bit quicker, a little bit funnier. We used to like sparring with each other but I would very quickly be outpaced. We bonded over physics lectures and Discworld books and somehow out of everyone he’s the only one I’ve kept in touch with for… shit, 27 years. He was best man at my first wedding but I got him in the divorce. (I used to joke that my ex got all the friends but to be honest back then there weren’t many outside of work, and those ones I treasure.)

He’d had lots of ups and downs, but he’d kept going, and he had health problems but they seemed to be being managed but then suddenly they weren’t. Another friend found him on the Wednesday, very ill, and took him to hospital, and by the Saturday he was gone.

We didn’t speak very often but I always knew he was there, on Facebook and Twitter, and reading this blog–he’s one of the people I’m talking to when I write–and he was always, always so proud and supportive and there. And now he’s not. And I find it so hard to comprehend that I can’t just message him, that he’s not there anymore with a funnier response to any of my jokes, that next time I go back home to Ballarat I can’t pop round and show off B and be outsmarted again. And I keep seeing things I know he’d like and going to tell him, and I can’t. I went to see Eddie Izzard the other day and everytime I laughed I thought, “wait till I tell Pete he said—” Oh.

Pete liked good scotch and baiting flat earthers on Twitter; it was always amusing to see people try to get the better of him. I liked seeing that I wasn’t the only one. I was rereading his tweets over the last week or so and he was in his usual fine form. Then they suddenly stop; there’s no foreshadowing in real life, and I wonder what his adversaries think happened to him, if they think they finally won.

And I am so, so sad.

I miss you, buddy. Rest well.

01 Mar

We moved house about a week and a half ago. It went unbelievably smoothly and I had lots of help but of course it’s still stressful. I was actually fine up until the day after the move when I suddenly felt enraged by all our belongings. How dare they be in a box with no designated place in which to go? What the hell were we thinking, buying them in the first place?

Dave and I have different views about how to unpack. I want to take my time, opening every carefully-curated box, deciding where each item should go and place it there with care and reference, preferably while listening to plinky-plonky restful music. But David declared that that would drive him nuts and proceeded to rip open boxes and shove things into any waiting nook and cranny while I was not there to stop him. He calls it decanting. I should have wondered why he agreed so readily to me going out that night.

Oh well, at least it gives me something to do. And he did have a (small, very small) point, as it was almost impossible to navigate around all the boxes to reach the places things should go. My house now resembles a sliding tile puzzle, I just have to find some gaps to move things around.

our movers were actually rather nice

what do you mean, you can’t live like this?

*

I like our new place. It’s in a much bigger development than our last one, full of lush gardens and pools and tennis courts and also water, for we are down by the marina. The buildings are all low-rise so it feels like a lovely, relaxing resort. From our bedroom I can see yachts and fit people running along the promenade. Inside it’s smaller than the last place, but also brighter and the layout makes more sense. We had to get rid of some furniture, but all our *stuff* fits fine. Or at least it will, once I slide the tiles around…

Of course the first week I hated it and thought we’d made a horrible mistake. It was the stress of moving, and also some unrelated sadness, and I was intimidated by the beautiful people in the gym. The car was broken so I couldn’t easily get out and contrary to my expectations B was not instantly surrounded by new friends and playdates. It was all daunting. Maybe we should have stayed where we were? We had friends there. I understood where things were in relation to there. I knew where my things were, there.

I feel better now. I still don’t know where my things are, and I haven’t been back to the gym, but we’re getting settled.

it’s pretty here

26 Jan

Lamingtons and parental disappointments

Happy Australia Day! Dave has taken the day off because he says it’s unAustralian to work today. He only became Australian two years ago but I guess this, like the second verse of Advance Australia Fair, is something he learned for the exam.

I am making lamingtons! It is my first time. I’m following this recipe and so far I’ve made the sponge. It seems a little bit thinner than I expected (my pan was a teensy bit too big both ways), but maybe this is so we can use jam to stick two pieces together. The recipe doesn’t call for jam, which seems strange. Also apparently I should have started yesterday, which explains all the baking on my Facebook then. (Jamie Oliver says I can put it in the fridge to dry it out, so I’ll try that.) Later when B gets home we’ll do the bit with the chocolate and coconut, which reminds me I’d better go buy chocolate and coconut this afternoon.

Also jam.

This morning B got to dress in green and gold (“ugh, that’s green and YELLOW, mum.”) for school, and I attempted to teach her the official prayer for today:

This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land.
You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.
Amen.

But she refused. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with her. This is typical. We did a little cruise a few weeks ago, just 5 days up to Thailand and back, and she was loving the kids’ club and their activities until one night they were having a pirate party. She was worried and said, “what if they want us to do swordfighting and I don’t want to?”

I said, “so just say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”

“But what if they make me?”

“Well then you say: HELLO! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

“I’m not going to say that.”

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

“No!”

“How about, ‘never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line’?”

“Stop it.”

“To the pain!”

“MUM.”

Sometimes it is inconcievable that she is my child.

17 Jan

The state of things

On the 2nd of January 2015, we arrived in Singapore. At the time we said we’d be here for two years, because it seemed as good a guess as any. We had no idea if we would like it here, or if Dave would like his job. Two years is the standard commitment for an expat role (leases and utilities all have two-year contracts) so that’s what we said. Long enough to decide if we like living here, but short enough that it’s not a life sentence if we don’t.

Okay, it’s been two years, so what’s happening?

Well, we’re still here. Singapore is a brilliant place to live, it’s clean and safe and everything just works. Dave is enjoying work (though enjoying is not quite the right word), his career is going well and he wants to keep pursuing it; Bianca is thriving at school and me…well, I like it, I’m happy, although the full answer feels more complicated than that.

We’re not committing to any particular chunk of time. Maybe one year, maybe two, perhaps even longer (though I doubt we’ll make it permanent). I have no idea what will happen in the future, where jobs will take us. All I can say is we’re not ready to leave yet.

I’m trying to sort out work. I took a leave of absence from work and that is nearly up. We’ve been talking about me working from the Singapore office but I’m really not sure how that will go so I need to think about what’s next. I’m nervous about being unemployed for the first time in… well, ever really, I’ve worked for the same place almost my entire adult life. Strictly speaking I don’t need to work here but it’s an insurance policy and takes some of the pressure off Dave. And to be honest it would be very good for my sanity to have more adult contact that doesn’t revolve around schoolyard gossip!

I am looking forward to going back but at the same time there’s a part of me bleating, “but… but… I have so much I want to DO!” Yet for the past however long I haven’t been doing any of it! It’s fair clear now that I cannot make good use of my time on my own! You can probably tell I’ve been in a slump for much of the past year, which I can really only put down to feeling a bit aimless. I need external help to find some direction. It remains to be seen whether just the threat of going back to work is enough to kickstart me again.

So that’s where we are right now: still in Singapore, looking to go back to work, making other changes too. Happy 2017 everyone, I hope it is better for you than 2016 in every possible way.