Moving apartments

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We hit 2 years in Singapore back in November, and our old lease expired not long after in early December (most leases in Singapore seem to be 2 years, although you can negotiate different terms).

I’m not going to do a step-by-step guide to looking for an apartment, as plenty of people have done a much better job of it (like my friend Crystal over at Expat Bostonians). The process is well documented on a number of other expat sites too. All I’d say is make sure you have a clear idea of what you want (size, location and $$$) and don’t be afraid to tell your agent if what they are showing you isn’t working for you.

We were lucky in that we found a good agent pretty early on in the process, after a couple of false starts with some decidedly disinterested agents. Lynn helped us consider new areas that we’d never looked at before, but that actually worked really well for us, both in terms of budget, size of unit and commute for W.

We’ve ended up in a gorgeous new condo just off Old Airport Road and we’re loving the peaceful surroundings and the much more residential vibe. We definitely have a lot more choice of places to eat on the doorstep (or a short walk/bus ride away). Supermarket shopping is a bit more tricky but the local wet market looks promising (I still haven’t made it out early enough to make the most of the best produce!). I’m embracing ordering groceries online now – with sites like RedMart and the online butcher service. Definitely more practical than carting groceries around the island, although I do still hop on the MRT for a quick Cold Storage run!

Back to the drawing board

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So, after much silence I decided to start writing in this thing again. The main reason, if I’m honest about it, is that I’m unemployed again so have much more free time to write and explore again.

So what happened with the job? A lot of you know the story but in a nutshell my employer ran out of money. After a year working there and 3 weeks to go before the conference I’d spent all that time organising, I found myself in a meeting with my ex-boss telling me there was no more money and they had to let us (myself and my colleagues) go, as well as cancelling the conference. Needless to say, this was a bit of a bombshell. A month on and there are still a lot of things to be resolved – my tax clearance still hasn’t been done, outstanding salary (of 2 months) is still to be paid.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. In my case, the conference being cancelled meant I could go to one of my best friend’s weddings. In fact, she is maid of honour at my wedding next year. So you can imagine, we were both thrilled! So I’ve spent the past week in a rather mild England, celebrating with some of my best friends. I also got the chance to see my family which I was especially delighted about.

Congratulations again, Mr and Mrs Hayward!

the girls

Red – #worldcolours project

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Ahh, I am SO behind with my #worldcolours project. Red was supposed to be in February so this is more than a little late – eep! Anyway, here are my reds.

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Hairy strawberry looking plant things I spotted during my first Botanic Gardens trip

Ponsettias at Gardens by the Bay

Poinsettia at Gardens by the Bay

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Will & I having a great time at the Olympics

Lion and his beater - Vietnam

Lion and his beater – Vietnam

Street shrine in Geylang

Street shrine in Geylang

Chillis at the market

Chillis at the market

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

Dragon from last years CNY celebrations

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A Singapore must-do: Singapore Slings at Raffles

Hopefully I’ll get around to doing the ‘green’ post in the correct month…

Now Playing: Emmylou

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I’ve recently got into First Aid Kit in a big way. This Swedish sister duo have this gorgeous folksy sound that I just can’t get enough of at the moment. They remind me a little bit of Fleet Foxes.

Anyway, I’ve basically had their album The Lion’s Roar on non-stop repeat when I’ve been at work. My favourite track at the moment is Emmylou, which references great American country singers Johnny Cash, June Carter, Graham Parsons, and Emmylou Harris. I love the gentle country and western twang that is in the background of this track. Enjoy!

A big fat Gujarati wedding

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In between Christmas in England and New Years in Singapore, Will & I flew to Ahmedabad in India to celebrate our friends wedding. They had already had a ceremony in England, but now it was time for the Indian side! Having never been to an Indian wedding, we were really looking forward to it but without any idea of what to expect.

Before we left Singapore we bought our outfits – a beautiful beaded sari for me and a kurta pajama (complete with matching shoes!) for Will. We picked up the outfits in Little India. Will’s was ready to take home, but I had to have my blouse made to measure. They were super sweet and turned it around really quickly for me (a couple of days) but I’d recommend leaving at least a week. I also got the skirt part of the sari with a lining stitched in and a wrap around hook-and-eye set up, making it really easy for me to put it on myself! Rather than having to have one of the couple’s aunties wrap me up!

Weddings are a massive event in India – the WHOLE family comes out for them and I think there were over 400 guests at this one. Vik’s family are Hindu, so what I’m going to describe is what we experienced – no doubt there are many variations on what happens and rituals that we didn’t get to see, as we weren’t part of the ‘wedding party’.

We started off with the Sangeet. The sangeet party is usually the most elaborate and grand part of the wedding and this one was no exception. We all got on a coach out to a country club about 30 minutes out of central Ahmedabad. The venue was beautifully decorated with huge flower displays and loads of amazingly colourful lighting.

Arriving at the sangeet

There was a huge buffet meal available, with everyone milling around eating and drinking fruit juices and lassi (being a Hindu wedding and Hindu state there was no alcohol available – kind of a relief after the boozy Christmas time we’d just had in England). The food was amazing with lots of different stations offering different vegetable curries, dhal, and roti. We sampled loads of different things – some were absolutely delicious, others blew my mind with the spiciness! We finished up our meal with condensed milk ice creams on sticks (not dissimilar to a Mini Milk…) which were flavoured with cardamom – delicious!

After the meal, we moved to the seating area. By now, the sun had gone down so the weather was actually chilly, so we were grateful for the big gas heaters that were strategically placed! What I didn’t realise was we were now in for 3 or 4hours of Indian dancing and singing! The sangeet was hosted by a famous singer who I think had appeared on Indian Idol (or a similar reality TV show). The best bits were when big groups of the groom’s family appeared on stage to perform set dance routines. The guys amazed me with their dancing – especially when it included some Gangnam style moves!

The guys dancing

It was incredibly energetic to watch. Then the ladies all performed some routines as well – a beautiful mixture of elegant arm movements and swirling skirts.

Ladies dancing at the sangeet

After the formal programme – lots more singing and dancing (!) – we all got up to dance in front of the stage with the whole wedding party. Pretty soon this was one big undulating mass of people moving in time to the music. Quite an amazing spectacle and I felt really English, with my inability to do some of the same moves in the same way as the impossibly elegant Indian ladies!

Dancing at the sangeet – sorry for the slight blurriness, everyone was dancing!

Then people started getting onto the stage and dancing. Aunties pulled Will & I up there to join in. But before too long we were all being asked to leave the stage as they were worried it was going to collapse! I guess several hundred people dancing will do that! So we carried on dancing on the grass, until my poor little feet were too tired to do any more and we joined other guests back on the coach to the hotel.

The bride – Catherine – in the midst of all the dancing

The next day, we slept in late, before having a short walk up the road from the hotel, in search of an ATM and water. We didn’t have much luck on either front but we did get to see lots of market stalls, motorbike repair shops and kids playing cricket. Back at the hotel we donned our Indian outfits (we’d worn more ‘Western’ outfits to the sangeet so we could dance more easily) and got into a tuk-tuk to take us to the wedding venue. Speeding through the Ahmedabad streets with my sari on, I felt impossibly glamorous!

In all our Indian finery

We arrived at the wedding venue and met up with some of the other guests. As we were waiting, the bride arrived. She had to wait with her family whilst we all took part in the groom’s procession.

Catherine arrives at the wedding venue

There was a band lounging around in the shade who seemed pleased to see us and kept waving over! The guys got taken off to have turbans made for them. After that we had time for a few quick photos before exciting news that an elephant had arrived! We’d been hearing rumours about this, but it was still unexpected. We all trundled out into the street to find a big group of family waiting and there was indeed an elephant!

The arrival of the elephant

Vik, the groom, soon arrived in a car covered in flowers. The band started playing – lots of trumpets and drums – creating an infectious beat. It was time for Vik to climb aboard the elephant.

Vik getting ready to climb onto the elephant

All aboard!

Will kept commenting that it reminded him of something out of Aladdin – the bit where Aladdin arrives amidst great ceremony to meet Princess Jasmine! I think it was the little parasol…

The procession of the groom is known as the baraat. The music was going and soon everyone was walking in front of the elephant, leading him towards the wedding venue and his bride. Every now and then the band would stop walking, and this was an opportunity for the processional to dance and give the band money to continue. We would only walk a few metres before stopping again and dancing some more!

Dancing in the baraat

The groom’s mother in beautiful orange

There seemed to be some set dances that went on as well as lots of clapping. It was a great opportunity to learn some dance moves, and to admire the wedding outfits of the guests. Everyone was wearing rich, vivid colours and the women looked beautiful in their heavily beaded and embroidered saris.

Eventually we arrived at the wedding venue (it probably took us 45 minutes to cover about 100 yards!). Here there was more dancing – this time with lots of scarves being swirled around. Then the groom got down off the elephant and was taken to meet the bride and her family. I couldn’t see a lot of this – we were towards the back and there were loads of people. Apparently, the bride’s mother has to keep pinching the nose of the groom to put him off taking her daughter away. The bride then has to ‘catch’ the groom by putting a garland of flowers around his neck. This is greeted with lots of cheering and clapping from the wedding guests. We then filed into the wedding venue.

We were all seated around a big raised area in the centre, where the ceremony would be performed. At this point, I found the divide between Indian and Christian weddings greatest. Usually, the actual ‘marriage’ is very solemn and everyone pays attention at every wedding I’ve been to. At an Indian wedding, it is a lengthy process, heavy with ritual and tradition. It goes on a long time, so everyone wanders around, chats, and eats! Waiters kept bringing us drinks and snacks to keep us going! I found out later that the bride and groom aren’t allowed to eat anything until the wedding is over!

The groom arrives first and there seemed to be a long blessing and prayers. Then the bride arrived, accompanied by all her female family members, who tightly surround her, carrying candles. There is also a sheet carried over her head, so you can hardly see her.

The bridal procession

A brief glimpse of Catherine!

I didn’t know what was happening most of the time after that but there is a really good guide to Indian weddings here. I know there was a fire, and they had their feet touched a lot. They also seemed to be given a lot of gifts.

Finally married!

After the ceremony is over, all the guests lined up to have their photo taken with the bride and groom. This went on for AGES! Apparently the line is formed by family hierarchy – with immediate family going first, aunts, uncles and cousins next, then more further removed family, and finally friends. After this, the bride and groom are finally allowed to eat! We expected more dancing, but there wasn’t any – apparently the sangeet is where the big ‘party’ takes place. The bride and groom then went off for further blessings and rituals at the family home.

The next day, Vik’s cousin got married so we were all invited along for that. It was a completely different wedding – the groom arrived on a horse and everything was done outside. It was nice as we got to spend time Vik & Catherine, rather than mostly watching them!

Will & I with Vik & Catherine

It was a fantastic experience – one I’ll never forget. It was wonderful to be back in India, celebrating such a happy occasion and getting an insight into a huge part of Indian culture. Thanks so much for inviting us you guys – we had a blast!

Candles and petals outside the wedding venue

As usual, there are more photos over on Flickr.

New feature: White – #worldcolours project

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In a project inspired by fellow blogger Naomi, I’ve joined the #worldcolours project. (See here for more details)

To quote from Naomi’s blog:

It’s a joint effort between bloggers all over  to collate our photos that all have ONE thing in common.  COLOR! During the end of each month, we’ll be sharing our version of imagery based on a color calendar … starting with WHITE. “

So, here’s my first world colours post – welcome to my world of white!

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot - my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

Gin cocktail in a smoking teapot – my work leaving drinks before I came to Singapore

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

One of the elephants on display when we first arrived

Old tiles, Vietnam

Old tiles, Vietnam

Selling nuts in Mumbai

Selling nuts in Mumbai

The stunning Taj Mahal - I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

The stunning Taj Mahal – I fell in love with it all over again the second time around

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Bougainvillea blooms in a Javanese flower market

Figure in Thailand

Figure in Thailand

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

The war memorial at Woodlands (also where I saw the Royals on their Singapore visit)

Making dumplings in Taipei

Making dumplings in Taipei

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

The bride at our first Indian wedding in December

I really enjoyed putting this post together – it was great to look back over some of my photos and revisit all the memories I have associated with them. Looking forward to next months colour!

Exciting news!

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Hi folks – apologies for the long hiatus, it’s been tricky to fit in finding my feet in my new job, seeing friends, going back to England for Christmas, an Indian wedding, a friends 30th birthday long weekend, and blogging! Phew…

Anyway, excuses out of the way. I wanted to share some super exciting news with you – after a long time of knowing each other (8 years!), the boy and I got engaged over Christmas!

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He proposed near to where he grew up, on a beautifully crisp and cold English winters day – it was just perfect. It goes without saying that we are hugely excited about being engaged, but also the years we have to come. So, as if I wasn’t already busy enough, I have our English countryside wedding to plan now. That’s the kind of busy I really like!

One year today!

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Happy Singapore anniversary to us! Can you believe its been exactly a year since we first touched down at Changi Airport, ready to start our big Asian adventure?! Time has really flown.

Having said that, it does feel like a long time ago since we arrived at Changi in the pouring rain, anxiously peering through our taxi windows at the place we had to learn to call home. Fast-forward 12 months and I now feel like I know Changi airport like the back of my hand. Those tree-lined boulevards are familiar to me (I even know the names of most of them – PIE, ECP, CTE…). This Little Red Dot does now indeed feel like home to me. I know my way around the island fairly well, I know how I take my teh at the canteen at work, I’ve sampled chicken rice, got drunk in new bars with new friends and created a little space of our own in our apartment. I’ve also started working again, which has been a huge part of my finally feeling settled in.

This last year has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for me. There were certainly days when I was so homesick it was like an ache; all I wanted to do was crawl under the duvet (with the AC on, of course!) and hide. I missed my friends and family terribly. Then I had days where everything would all come together – a beautiful view, the right song on my iPod, the kindness of someone I’d never met before. I went out and met new friends, tried new foods and explored new places. I started to understand the charm of this little place.

There are so many people who have helped me along my journey to feeling ‘settled’ – I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, friends (both old and new) and Will, of course! To all of you, I say thank you, I wouldn’t be here and feeling content without you.

The End of the Job Hunt!

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I am very pleased to report, that after several long months of searching and lots of dead-ends, that I have finally got a job! Hooray! I’m just getting into my third week now and it’s going really well so far. I’m working as a Project Manager for a company that produces a music education magazine and is also hosting a 4-day, 1200 delegate conference and trade show next October. So I am a busy bee! We’re only a small team at the moment but likely to be growing in the not too distant future.

I have to say, although I enjoyed my time not working and like to think I made the most of exploring both Singapore and the region, it is wonderful to be back in a professional environment. I’m asked for my opinions and ideas and I feel like I am exercising my brain properly, after it being a bit fat and lazy for a while. It’s great to have a new set of challenges to grapple with. Plus, having an EP (Employment Pass) means I can finally do things like have my own bank account, so I am feeling more like an individual again, rather than just being Will’s ‘trailing spouse’.

There were times when I thought I’d never find work. I found myself envying friends back home in the UK but also here, even though quite often they’d complain about their jobs to me. I suppose the grass is always greener! I was worried that the longer I was out here without work, the harder it would become to find something. It was already starting to get to the stage where recruiters would tip their head to one side and go ‘oh, so you still haven’t found anything?’. I went through a lot of disappointments – getting close to something but then it falling through at the last-minute, for a whole variety of reasons.

I would never say to anyone coming out here without work that finding a job here is straightforward. I am sure it can be much easier than I had it, especially if you are in law, finance or accounting. I found the most effective route was to shamelessly use my networks! I found that people in Singapore are quite happy to help out in that respect, as they know often you have left your entire professional network behind when you relocate. That seemed to be the best way of getting interviews, rather than applying cold through one of the many job portals. I’d also recommend familiarising yourself with the MoM website, especially their information on the different types of Work Passes available to foreigners. Some of these have quite strict requirements about qualifications and salary levels (if you have any specific questions do feel free to pop me an email – I’d be more than happy to help).  Most of all I would say, don’t give up! It can be tough and frustrating but if you put the effort in, it will pay off eventually.

I am sure that the day will come when I miss having the freedom to do what I like during the day, but for now, I am over the moon to be gainfully employed once more!

Now Playing: Paper Forest (In the Afterglow of Rapture)

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Sorry for the quiet couple of weeks folks. I’ve been pretty hectic with my NEW JOB! (More on that soon I promise!). Today I’ve been exploring some new music on Spotify and came across this gorgeous track by Emmy The Great, who friends of mine adore and talk about but who I’d never really listened to. Anyway, enjoy and happy weekends all!