Time sure flies when you're sweating like a Soprano with his back to the door at an Upper East Side restaurant.
Two years ago, I was new to living in Singapore. I was in a fog of humid uncertainty, mixed with loneliness and squeamishness (it was Durian season). The two-year contract with Mike's company loomed endlessly ahead.
I've learned a lot in the last two years. I learned that any time Mike suggested a shortcut, it wasn't. I learned Jell-O is $12, a liter of gin is $72, and a leather armchair is $17,000. (But it's the same leather used in a Ferrari, the salesman earnestly told me when my jaw dropped.)
Most importantly, I learned that Durian -- the fruit that looks like a weapon and frankly, the odor could fell armies -- does taste like it smells, a mixture of sweaty socks and dirty jockstraps.
And now it's over. Mike's work contract is up this month, as is our lease. Our furniture --- including most of the Zip-lock bags I moved here two years ago --- starts chugging across the ocean in two weeks. So, unless the perfect new job is offered in the next few days, we are following our stuff back to Lafayette.
Two years ago, I would have left here without glancing back. But two years ago, I was nauseated every evening; a sign of anxiety, according to webMD. My doctor confirmed it, adding that I was also dehydrated due to massive sweating (which explained the hair loss as well). Two years ago, I was missing my friends. I missed my home. I missed autumn in Lamorinda; there are no seasons in Singapore.
When I finally forced myself to leave my safe haven on the 21st floor, I found other women going through the same transitions. We did tours to get to know the culture and history of our new country. We explored Little India, Arab Street, Chinatown. We learned how to play Mah Jong. I joined a writers group and a book group. It's been pretty darn great, like living in a blissful bubble.
So now, my euphoria is tempered with the things I'm leaving behind. I'll miss never having to need a sweater, no matter what time of day or night. I'll miss assigned seating at the movie theaters. I'll miss our doormen, who always give a hand with the groceries. I'll miss my always-smiling helper, who irons and does windows. Most of all I'll miss my friends and the camaraderie that goes along with the feeling of being in the same boat -- we are all away from our homes and relatives, but we are making the best of it. I'll miss the smart, interesting, fun, gutsy women I've met here, but -- unlike when I left Lamorinda -- I probably won't see a majority of them ever again.
I'll miss some of the day-to-day curiosities that go with living in a different culture. For instance, Singaporeans rarely walk around smiling, but this doesn't mean they hate me (always my first assumption). They also will never initiate a casual conversation. But when I do, they are lively and warm.
I'll miss the taxi drivers, who are considerate, law-abiding and often funny. After traveling to various Southeast Asian countries in our time here, I am always relieved to come back and get a taxi driver who doesn't drive on sidewalks. However, most cabbies are not fluent in English. I've become adept at saying "yes," "wow" and "really?" accompanied by a hearty chuckle to the talkative ones that I don't understand. And the taxi drivers that speak English well enough to ask what job my husband does and how much rent we pay --- well, they're probably the ones who are rumored to be government informants.
Things I won't miss: The crowds. Singaporeans shop for fun, and masses of them converge on the 22 malls within a few blocks of my house. Eighty percent are texting while walking. Once a guy banged into me hard. It's the only time in two years I've dropped the F-bomb at a local.
I won't miss the grocery shopping. You can't argue with managers of grocery stores because they are always right, even when they are wrong. Ask for cilantro, and they will give you Chinese parsley. Explain that is not cilantro but they insist it is. Ask for corn tortillas, and they show you their 12 brands of flour tortillas.
Restaurants are a learning curve all their own. If you want to drink water, you must specify if you want it to be cold, otherwise it will be room temperature. Only one or two menus are left per table, no matter how many are in the party. Food is served as soon as it is ready, which results in staggered eating. I once didn't get served my dinner until long after Peter and Mike had finished their meals.
After traveling to various other Southeast Asia countries I learned to appreciate the cleanliness and safety of Singapore. The streets are pot-hole free and the jungles that would ordinarily encroach are maintained just enough to make this island lovely. Except for the part where lawbreakers are hung on Fridays, Singapore is Disneyland. Everything is planned to seeming perfection.
But it's not realistic, nor is it normal. Ninety-percent of the women I've talked to here say their husbands don't really have male friends; most travel too much. It's up to the wives to come up with a social life, and even if you get along great with the wife, getting together as couples is often a different story. It's a far cry from meeting lifelong friends on the soccer field or Little League bleachers. Female relationships here are also different; longtime expats often don't invest in meaningful friendships because your best friend could up and leave next month. I've already lost four friends to other countries.
And now I'm one of those friends.
I can't wait to have coffee at Peet's and a Cosmopolitan at Amoroma. I want to walk around Lafayette Reservoir, followed by breakfast at Chow or La Boulange. I want to shop at the new Farmer's Market in Lafayette, where I'll actually be able to identify the vegetables for the first time in two years. I want to smell cold air. I want to see leaves that change color and I want to light a fire in my fireplace. I want to wear a coat. I want to walk around my town without being suddenly accosted by the stench of Durian.
Our family has so much to be grateful for in our Singapore sojourn. Peter got to play three sports his senior year at Singapore American School and made friends for life. Lauren loved the different cultures. Mike loved Ice Kachang. I am grateful for all of it, but especially for the strong women with whom I've had the privilege of sharing this adventure.
But what I am most grateful for is the wonderful home, friends and community to return to.
See you soon.