singapore diaries (i)

The same winter I turned twenty-five, my parents moved to Singapore. My father’s job was relocated here and they’ve been here ever since – fifteen months and counting. It is hot. It is muggy. It’s the kind of steamy you can only find in the very best saunas in England. It’s often uncomfortable. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been, fusing the fast-paced, colourful beat of Asian megacities with the calm, orderly, clean charm enforced by Lee Kuan Yew.

I’m visiting this week and, while here, in their sixth-floor apartment that overlooks a coral-rich marina, I have been thinking about how unexpected life can be. Twenty, fifteen, ten, even two years ago I had no idea that this unique tropical oasis one degree north of the equator would become a significant part of our family’s story. None of us knew, and yet here we are – falling asleep to the staccato whirr of the air conditioner, waking to unfamiliar birdsong and the chattering of crickets. Life’s unpredictability can be scary, of course, but it can also be rather wonderful.

So far we have eaten Hong Kong’s finest dim sum in an air-conditioned mall, taken the ‘bumboat’ out to the island of Pulau Ubin, abundant in monkeys, wild boar and arachnids the size of a small child’s visage. We have fed wild cats foil sachets of Whiskas in thirty-three degree heat; we’ve swum laps of the cerulean pool in the courtyard each twilight and dodged pinhead jellyfish in the Strait of Singapore. We’ve unbuckled our sandals and covered our shoulders to watch Hindu prayer in the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple in Little India. I’ve lapped up laksa and fried carrot cake (made of turnips, not carrots) at the hawker centre and listened to Singaporean schoolchildren sing in the shadow of a converted Catholic convent. There have been sudden rainstorms of biblical magnitude, which leave the pavements, leaves and passersby glistening. We’ve balked at close encounters with apes fond of sandwiches, and admired butter-yellow butterflies dancing in the hazy equatorial sunlight. At night, sometimes, bolts of lightning illuminate spots on the horizon, like the lights of an old telephone switchboard.

We return then to my musings (ramblings?) about the unexpected. Growing up, I never imagined – of course, I didn’t – the vagaries, or indeed the specifics, that have come to pass. My parents’ move, my own profession, my thoughtful partner, my own experiences living abroad, and the chance to take advantage of my family’s location in the central hub of southeast Asia. I feel immensely grateful for it, largely because it was so unexpected. Eighteen months ago, even, I’d never travelled further east than Cyprus, never really yearned for the tropics in the way I occasionally feel homesick for the damp, fragrant air now. This blessed unexpected turn of events makes me hopeful, at heart. Hopeful that the future – in spite of the strange, distressing political situation at home (which still, all these many months later, leaves a lump in my throat) – is often better than we could ever have imagined. It’s often entirely magical.

(photos) on digital, Singapore, March 2017