dinsdag 13 december 2011

The baring of the expat soul

This is, by far, the best read post on my blog, probably because of the title. (I wish I were as good at thinking up clever, curiosity inducing titles as my former colleagues F. and I. but well, there's room for improvement.) I thought it only fitting to try and translate this one first.

Expats make lovely stereotypes. That was the first thing I discovered after going online to find more information on living in Singapore. Lots and lots of expat bloggers devote time and energy to make fun of the poor souls who have been banished by their companies to some tropical paradise with far too much money to make up for the hardship. Keywords: condo's, swimming pools, helpers, coffee, lunch, cocktails and shopping. The Dutch bloggers throw in tennis and travel for good measure, whereas the English speaking contingent seems more into tanning.

Well. We've got a pool. And there's the lovely Sara from housekeeping who cleans the apartment every morning while carrying E. on her arm. (Incidentally, Singaporeans don't really seem to be into dishwashers which makes the appearance of Sara every morning utter bliss.) And I'm not working, although I still carry the hope that this might change. I don't play tennis, but my English is weirdly accented, so I can pass myself off as another country's native ("Are you Russian?" enquired one kind gentleman. I'll take that as a compliment, having seen the Russian beauties on the Turkish riviera.)

But something else struck me soon after arriving here, something none of the other bloggers had mentioned: the expats readily bare their souls.

I met a Hong Kong mum who bought 180 ovulation sticks over the internet because her project this year is to have a second child (it's the year of the Dragon, so apparently it's going to get really busy on the maternity wards). So far, I've met three couples who had their babies through IVF, some on account of their age, others on account of shrivelling eggs. There's a lovely yoga-loving mum who has two children three months apart; after ten years of trying they gave up, arranged for a surrogate mum and three months in, the yoga-loving mummy got pregnant after all. And in the elevator at my favourite mall, a beaming sturdy German mum guessed her African baby's age to be about eight months - "she only arrived yesterday". It was her fourth child, the other three were her biological children. Then the elevator arrived at our floor.

But it's not just mummies and babies who love to tell their stories. (Although I will confess I have a bias towards hearing those kind of tales.)

"It's not my story, I can't make those changes", a tall, flamboyant woman exclaimed over the phone at the sandwichshop where E. and I were having lunch. I thought she might be a writer, but she turned out to be a choreographer. A Singaporean company had hired her to choreograph part of their theatricals, but as it turned out the star players were not satisfied with the way the story unfolded through the dance. So they wanted to change the story. "Really, it's because they're just not very good dancers", the choreographer confided. "But they hired me because they liked my work so much and they wanted me to push the envelope." She sighed at the thought of all her hard work that she'd been so proud of. "I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't."

"I really hope it won't take another seven years get over my homesickness", said a lovely European lady who'd lived in Japan for fifteen years before arriving in Singapore a couple of months earlier. "You know, when someone in the Japanese subway says 'look there's a farang', I turn around and ask 'where?'" But her husband's job took them out of Japan and chances are they won't return, since he never learned to speak Japanese. She had left the Japanese contender when he didn't want to have children, and now she had had to leave Japan to be with her child's father. I could see her heart breaking.

And the soul-baring seems to be contagious. "Do you think homosexuality is genetic or taught?" asked one of S.' Singaporean colleagues during a lull in the conversation at lunch. We didn't know what to say. Homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. "I think it's genetic", the colleague said defiantly. Another Asian colleague concurred: "My niece is lesbian, but she wasn't raised any different than my nephew."

Fortunately, some things don't change as I found out when E. and I went to have lunch at the local Google office (they have a nice view, but not as good as S.' view I can proudly say). Facebook told me an old friend from UCC had moved here to plot Google's way around Asian revenue. He's Irish, so I expected good company, lots of jokes and chitchat and skating on the surface. And I wasn't disappointed. We had a lot of fun reminiscing, catching up and watching E. navigate the Google office and discover lots of wonderful crumpled paper which fairies had hidden inside a dustbin. He kept his soul to himself.

3 opmerkingen:

  1. ovulatie sticks zijn ook zeer handig om niet zwanger te worden!Wat goed dat ze nu via internet te koop zijn!
    krijgen we eindelijk schoon drinkwater!

  2. It's true that expats are very quick to share confidences. But only some of them. Often the most painful things are kept the most private. And then you find out how depressed someone has been or that they're about to get divorced or their husband is having an affair ...

    1. It's a strange balance, isn't it? Some stuff just comes right out, other stuff is kept in. We haven't been around long enough for actual disasters to strike (and, you never know, maybe we've ended up in a group of people who are generally happy!), but I do see what you mean. I checked out your blog, very interesting!