While I am being generous with the word "girl" I am just a person from small-town anywhere trying to survive the culture shock of "Asia-Easy". Well, it ain't that easy, but then again, it ain't that hard to survive where there is no snow, shopping galore and food every 5 metres. Singapore, Cambodia, Viet Nam, Thailand, educate this prairie girl.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
Living la vida loca
Last year I missed the Christmas hoopla in Singapore because I wanted one last hurrah with my children and of course, I can never get enough of that frozen stuff that is so plentiful in Canada. I know you thought snow, but I was thinking the ice in my drink that manages to stay frozen for the entire length of the drink. In Singapore, it lasts as long as you can walk from the kitchen to the dining room. While scraping car windows, braving the biting cold to do battle in the malls and ramming old ladies in Costco for the biggest pumpkin pie, I missed all outrageous seasonal parties in Singapore. Come on, you know you would knock over someone for those pies. Have you seen the size of them?
R2 showing his sopes
R2 and I got the party training rolling by inviting a dozen Japanese friends over for a little pre-Christmas spicy Mexican food and spirit. Nothing says "Joy to the World" like jalapeno peppers, black bean dip and chicken chocolate mole on top of freshly made sopes.
For a little added fun, R2 asked the guests to help make the sopes from imported corn flour, in our hot, steamy kitchen. Most of the guests have a limited grasp of the English language but with sign language and a little cerveza, he got the message across. I know there was a lot of bowing and laughing as Yukihiro rolled the sopes and Kyoko pressed them flat in the tortilla maker. I suggested we introduce tequila in the cooking class but then R2 would have been speaking Japanese and the Japanese, Spanish with remarkable efficiency.
Oddly enough, the next party I am attending, is again hosted by me. Don't judge; at least this way I always like the host gift and I am dressed appropriately for the occasion.
I am trying to outsmart Mother Nature at this event. At our last fiesta of this magnitude, we had the monsoon rains blow in during the evening making conversation almost unbearable, so if I host early enough, maybe we can have a conversation without screaming at the top of our lungs while the rain pummels my glassed-in dining room. Is 10:30 a.m. too early for aperitifs?
This get together started innocently as a ladies book swap but now we have more than 30 women coming, and me serving sangria along with nibblies. The one thing I know is the only booking involved will be of taxis to get the blottoed chicks outta the henhouse before my Old Rooster gets home. As for any swapping; well, that is another kind of party down the road in Geylang.
An $8.95 per litre rip off!
Fast forward to the next, next party because you can never have too much Eggnog during the Holiday Season; even if that Eggnog is $8.95 per liter in this part of the world. R2 and I are invited to a restored shophouse for an old-fashioned Secret Santa party, with friends from the UK. I really have no idea what a Secret Santa is but I do know that if Santa doesn't point his sleigh due East, trade Rudolph for a camel named Habib, and shed his fur, he won't be finding me anytime soon in Singapore. And here is my secret for you Santa, Rudolph, even with his nose so bright is no match for the heat, sand, oil and Ferraris in Dubai.
With all of this hobnobbing, a girl has to find some fancy regalia to wear to the parties. Shopping for the western woman in Singapore puts fear into the heart of gals from one end of the island to the other; I am no different. I shudder just envisioning a trip to the mobbed malls, going through racks and shelves full of clothes meant for wee people. The average expat is almost out of luck when it comes to buying, well, almost anything except for the occasional pair of shoes or a pashmina.
I was not going to let Singapore win this clothing battle. I loved to shop in new stores in North America and no way was I going to let Asia defeat me. When I used to try on clothes in Canada, people would give me feedback and compliments, telling me clothes looked decent on me. Here, I am told, "We find you bigger size, you fat." I have also been told, "You aren't THAT fat," and my all-time favorite, "You too big, go to fat western store." How is that for a kick in the ego?
Off I sweated to Orchard Road where if you can't find it, it ain't made. I went into a department store and determinedly marched to the Ladies wear. I knew boutique and Layna were not going to see eye to eye on 5'9" and curves.
The salesclerk spoke some sort of English that was unfamiliar to me but I explained I needed party dresses for Dubai and a Secret Santa party. I think she understood the Dubai part; the jury is still out on the Santa comment.
She dragged me back to the change room with an armload of dresses which I eyed dubiously. They were beautiful lace and sequined frocks but the size and price didn't match. I think the tinier the dress, the more it costs, as with lingerie. She began to push, shove and stuff me into dresses that the armpits where so small, I looked like I was in a permanent "hold up." The waist bands on my over-length torso became an underwire bra. It may be just me but something about a glittering belt situated and holding up your tatas just didn't sit right with yours truly. To top it all off, the mid-length dress turned in its modesty to become a micro-mini on my frame.
Finally we found two dresses that didn't make me look like a 10-year old girl covered in ruffles, frills and bows, and were decent, if not quite attractive. Never mind that, I now am the proud owner of a size L and, gasp, XL. Maybe I can cut the tags out. All sense of pride and vanity is thrown out the window when you are dealt the "Fat Card," and given an XL.
No wonder I am XL
Despite the calamities that befall R2 and I, overall the Christmas season has been special in Singapore because like us, there are thousands of expats searching for that "down-home" Christmas experience they left behind. What has made Christmas charming in Singapore, as in Canada, is the friends we have made. We might be sweating around the fake Christmas tree, the rum that goes in the eggnog is even a more outrageous price than the nutmeg thick goo, but with all the wonderful friends we are blessed to have met in this past year, I want to say thank you for letting us share in your Christmas traditions. So as they say in Holland, "Gelukkig kerstfeest", or in Thailand, "สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส", or Portugal, "Feliz Natal" and of course Mexico, as R2 recalls his father telling his mother “Your mother is here, pass me the Whiskey.”
While we may not be home, and we are both missing our families and traditions, we are enjoying being surrounded with new friends and customs, no snow and the knowledge that all of my amigas are also wearing size XL.