When stepping out of Singapore airport, prepare yourself to be hit by a heavy gust of humidity. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten this little bit of advice myself, and I swelter in my denim jacket from London. Despite growing up on this little island, three years of life in gloomy, frosty London has broken all my defence mechanisms against intense 78% humidity and burning sunshine. I spend the first 2 days in my parent’s home, sleeping, showering off the sweat and sleeping some more, unnatural amounts in fact, the result of a combination of jet-lag and lethargy brought on by the weather.
On my third day, I’m as perky as a button and I head straight to the nearest Hawker Centre and order my all-time favourite, Nasi Ayam (Roasted Chicken Rice with sambal, a Malay chilli sauce) and down it with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice. How I’ve missed the food here. The cheapness, the variety, the rich taste, the open-all-hours policy. London seems to shut down at 7 p.m. Over here you can head to a hawker centre at 5 a.m. and order fresh sambal sting-ray and chicken satay. Throw away any preconceptions you have of satay, as London has no clue how to prepare it. In London, they stick a few pieces of chicken breast on a stick and call it satay. That’s not satay, that’s chicken breast on a stick. Genuine satay is pounded meat slapped onto a stick and barbequed on an open grill, constantly being fanned and turned. It’s an extravagance you can’t miss if you visit Lau Pa Sat in Singapore, where dozens of satay stalls are perched outdoors waiting for your orders. Even the fast-food here is better! Burger King Singapore have this glorious invention called the Mushroom Swiss, and KFC do their coleslaw and mashed potato to perfection. However, the local customer service leaves much to be desired, but one needs to realize that they’re not always being rude, it’s just a peculiarity of the Singlish dialect, where sentences are shortened, making the speaker sound abrupt at times. Don’t be surprised if you hear, “Cannot lah!” instead of ‘Sorry miss, but I can’t give you a discount‘ (yes, I’ve been shopping).
I rejoice in the little things, the little differences that make life so different here. Not having to wear 300 layers of clothing before leaving the house is one. Being able to step out in my Jesus sandals, and just simply EXISTING with only a thin cotton T-shirt and shorts. It’s liberating! I realize that back in London, my fear of the cold makes me tense up every time I step outdoors, and I find myself reacting the same way here whenever I open a door, only to be pleasantly surprised by the warmth. Don’t be fooled that there isn’t any sub-zero weather in Singapore however. Wait till you get into a local bus, the air-conditioning is always strong enough to turn your toes purple.
Living in London, I’ve especially missed taking cold showers. You haven’t taken a real shower until you’ve come in from a tiring, hot day outdoors, and you head straight into an ice-cold shower. It’s therapeutic. Never mind that the first 30 seconds your body is screaming and you’re practically having a seizure. But it’s truly something to look forward to, and I regret 3 years of unsatisfying shower experiences. Showering in London is just not as blissful. No wonder people smell on buses.
Unofrtunately, my newly found discovery of Singapore doesn’t all remain a fairy tale. One day, Mum sprays the whole house with Baygon insect killer because this island, in case you didn’t know, is infested with creepy crawlies (beetles, cockroaches (star of my little tale), centipedes…you name it, we’ve got it). So, reacting to the spray, these bloody-useless-creations-of-God-designed-merely-to-ruin-my-life decide to come out of their hiding places and escape from the fumes. A word of warning here; sometimes, when you don’t spray enough, they simply get a bit drunk on the fumes and refuse to die.
Anyway, so we’ve just about settled into sleep on our mattresses on the floor when suddenly, I feel something crawling on my leg. I fling my leg upwards and this huge black thing falls on the mattress next to my head. You wouldn’t realise how fast your mind works when you’re scared – because in a micro-milli-split-second my mind goes through a couple of stages, from contemplating whether to just hyperventilate and die on the spot with a heart attack, to screaming bloody murder and alerting the entire household (well, it is just Mum and me), to jumping up and telling Mum amidst hyperventilating gasps, that there’s a cockroach on my bed and to get the bleedin’ spray (minus the expletives, Mum would spray me instead).
Anyway, I choose the third option because the second one could have given Mum ‘palpitations’ which would go along the lines of “Farzina, how could you wake me up like that, you’ve given me, (wait for it)…palpitations! Not forgetting a headache…” and so on and so forth. But bless the woman, she jumps right up as well and runs for the broom and the spray while I just stand around jumping on the spot and shaking off imaginary roaches off my body. We eventually succeed in killing the little pest (who, by the way, simply refuses to die) and when sweeping it out the door, we find another one lying at the doorstep dead. At this point all hell breaks loose in my head and I lie back on our mattress constantly thinking they’re under my pillow.
Two seconds into being back in bed and I hear fluttering around our heads and once again, I’ve dragged Mum out of bed and turned the lights on. There she is thinking I’ve gone psycho with fear, because I insist that I hear fluttering. She tells me in a deadpan “right she’s lost it…” voice that “No, you’re hearing things because I for one, can’t see anything”. I start muttering that perhaps we should go to a hotel for the night while she lies back down in bed, at which point I see it! I knew it; I have a sixth sense when it comes to these things (not always a good thing). This drunk little criminal is crawling near the head of our mattresses, and Mum swiftly gives it one short spray and – POOF! – it’s gone.
So now that my Ma has to give me some credit for being right, she agrees to at least move the mattresses to the living room because it seems the pests are coming from the opposite direction, and we do that and eventually, fall asleep, although with much difficulty, because I keep thinking they’re trying to get into my pants.
After the above-mentioned incident, a part of me starts to miss London, where everything is so artificial, and not quite so close to nature. A city where I can sleep with ease at night, and all I breathe in are the traffic fumes, and I am confident of being the only living creature in the bedroom. Jokes aside, I realize that life in every city is a matter of give and take. I left some pleasures behind when I moved to London, but I certainly won’t miss my eight legged friends.