domingo, septiembre 10, 2006

Singapore - Part 3

I’d been reading up on Singapore months before moving there. Most of what I read and what I’d heard from Blue was all very similar: bland descriptions of a clean city with good shopping, excellent food, tropical climate, etc.

My initial reaction to HDB life in Sembawang was to wonder whether I’d boarded the wrong flight. Talk about false advertising! Now this was completely different from what I’d expected. Not to say I was unhappy. I was very amused by my new surroundings. In a way, I was glad Singapore wasn’t the dull little modernized island I’d been led to expect.

I’d wake up every morning to the sound of the Chinese mom next door breaking the sound barrier. Lord knows what exactly she was saying. She must’ve been hurrying her kids off to school because after all the screaming and what sounded like the thumping of a broom against doors, I’d see 3 terrified children running to the elevator in their uniforms. Our living room window faced a sort of outdoor corridor, so I’d see everyone on their way to the elevator. It made for great people-watching. Then the newspaper guy would ride through on his bike shouting to announce the morning paper. What a voice on that man. I still jumped whenever I heard him, even though by then I knew he was not shouting about a fire. Later in the morning, women who weren’t working gathered downstairs gossiping loudly in Chinese or Malay. I was surrounded by sound.

Together with the sound came the smells. Funky smells. Curries and spices (Sembawang is predominantly Malay and Malays like to cook!) the likes of which I couldn’t imagine having to eat in the morning. A hot, humid breeze would waft odd scents into our apartment day after day. The living room stunk of chicken, fish, and pork.

Ok, so maybe now I’m beginning to highlight the only major downside I can see to HDBs - neighbors. If you’ve got good ones, GREAT, because walls are thin and privacy is scarce. Bad ones? Well, then you’re in for it. I think I have a pretty good picture of “bad neighbor” types. You’ve got your screamers and shouters. Then come the people with noisy pets. See a dog or a birdcage next door? Just you wait until dark! There’ll be enough barking and chirping to wake the dead. Next come the people who cook all the time. What do I have against people cooking? Well, just imagine you come out of the shower smelling all nice and clean only to be hit with –BAM! - a blast of curry perfume. Now you’ve been kicked up a notch! Your hair smells like shampoo AND curry! On a food note, you’ve got your dumpers – the people too lazy to go out to the garbage chutes in the hallway, so they dump leftover rice out the kitchen window. Not uncommon for those leftovers to land on the laundry someone just hung out to dry. Moving on, you’ve got your peepers – very often windows in HDBs are built facing each other and you look out of your kitchen window only to see someone staring right at you with morbid curiousity. Ok, maybe I felt that last one a little more than most people because I was the only white girl in the neighborhood. I couldn't go anywhere without getting stares. I wonder if I've missed out any HDB bad neighbor types. Let me know if I have!

Changing topic, my job interview at the American School didn’t go badly, but they decided in the end that they needed a web designer more than someone to do the type of PR position they had in mind for me originally. I didn’t know the first thing about web design, so I had to keep looking. Most days, after a rude awakening by the Chinese woman next door, I’d start doing jumping jacks and running in place to prepare myself for one helluva cold shower. In between, my heart would probably stop beating from the startling cry of the newspaperman. I’d come out of the shower, and, more often than not, I’d get hit with whatever crazy stench was drifting out of the downstairs kitchens. I’d walk to the mall where there was a library with internet. It was there where, stinking like food with Malay school kids hanging over my shoulders because they wanted me to get off the computer so they could play video games… it was there, on the 3rd floor of Sun Plaza, that I began my search for a job.

Coming soon - spies, a friend I met in the mall foodcourt, mall bathrooms, and scary bugs that come through the windows when you live near an open field! Stay tuned...