maandag 30 april 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: A day in the life of E. part I

We have arrived in the Netherlands where it's unbelievably cold. Thankfully the package of gorgeous girl's winter clothes sent by wisdom hat wearer and go-to resource on all things vampire F. has arrived safely, so we've managed to layer several sets over E.'s body, who had the shock of her life when she was carried out of the airport. A look of pure disgust was shot at the grey sky emitting icy drizzle accompanied by some fierce teeth chattering. The sky was not impressed and threw in some gale bursts for good measure. (Actually, according to local weather specialists it's quite mild for the time of the year.) Slowly we are adjusting, mainly by wearing thick skiing socks, fleece jackets and staying indoors. (Yes, all at the same time.) So I thought I'd take this opportunity to show you a bit of E.'s daily life.

E. wakes up around 6.30, eats a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and heads off to daycare in time to receive a bowl of cereal as her second breakfast. I pick her up again at 1pm and after she has put on her shoes, we dawdle home past fountains and ginger flowers on our way to the next snack: fruit. In this case oranges, but possibilities are endless, including bananas ("NANA!"), grapes, rambutan, dragon fruit and mango. Papaya however has been firmly rejected following an epic fit of vomiting on the ferry back from Bintan.

This is when the real busyness kicks in. E. has a myriad of things to do, errands to run and household tasks to make sure all is well in the Tamtam world: ride the shopping carts, cut figures out of play-doh, reposition cuddly toys throughout the house and cover them with muslim sheets and pet them to death, phone some friends, reno the kitchen, play the piano and inspect the content of the tissue box. The day is concluded with a well deserved hot bath and the consummation of a proper bottle of milk, because E. knows her position in the family: "Baby!"

Next week part II: E.'s leisure pursuits. Follow her while she hangs with friends, sunbathes at the pool and explores the treasure trove that is Royce's kids gym.

vrijdag 27 april 2012


Als het goed is, liggen wij op het strand wanneer jullie dit lezen. Dat zal sommigen een beetje verrassen, aangezien we toch ook naar Nederland vliegen deze vrijdag, maar dat is pas rond middernacht. En aangezien op deze donderdagavond de tassen al bijna gepakt zijn (en daarmee bedoel ik dat bijna alle spullen erin zitten, niet dat ik bijna begonnen ben met inpakken) en mijn lieve vriendinnetjes morgenmiddag met hun koters richting S.' favoriete stek Sentosa vertrekken, dachten we: dan kunnen we net zo goed aansluiten. Daarna gaan we uit eten en dan richting vliegveld.

Wie denkt dat E. dan wel eens totaal uitgeput zou kunnen zijn: dat hopen wij wel ja. De lichten in het vliegtuig gaan pas rond twee uur 's nachts lokale tijd uit, dus om haar in slaap te krijgen en te houden (en zo mij te laten slapen, S. heeft het zo slim weten te spelen dat hij op een andere vlucht zit, de smiecht) zijn paardemiddelen nodig. Wij hebben ook van een Chinese vriendin yam-puree gekregen (een hele specifieke soort yam, die alleen op hele lokale, Chinees georienteerde, in kelders verborgen markten te vinden is) die nogal slaapverwekkend schijnt te zijn. Bij E.'s middagdutje eergisteren werkte het als een tierelier, dus ik heb goede hoop.

Mochten al deze tactieken falen, dan heb ik ook een nieuw Dribbel-boekje ingepakt, krijtjes, knuffels, klei, stickers en S. heeft voor mij de tablet volgeladen met baby-apps. Al deze zaken gaan, samen met een maandvoorraad mini-koekjes, visjes en rozijnen in E.'s nieuwe uilentasje, dat ze helemaal zelf heeft uitgezocht (uit de drie die ik had geselecteerd, inderdaad. Maar ik vond zelf het lieveheersbeestje veel leuker. Stomme eigen mening.)

E. en haar uilentas, april 2012

Voor mezelf neem ik een met boeken gevulde Kindle mee. S. heeft mij geleerd dat piekeren nutteloos is: als het een drama wordt, voorkomt piekeren dat niet. Als ik daarentegen stug geloof dat alles goed komt, heb ik in ieder geval vantevoren plezier.

Dus ik ga nu alvast in mijn boek beginnen. Het is de eerste van een serie van drie - dat moet toch lukken in vijftien uur vliegtuig?

Optimisme rules! Tot volgende week!

donderdag 26 april 2012

The expat toddler years: part I The Netherlands

The day E. was born, my parents sat at the bus stop waiting for us to come home. To distract me from cuddling my newborn (read: to prise the baby out of my hands) my mum handed me a photo album. It was the one in which she'd recorded the first year of my life, including a journal of her confinement period (the GP still made housecalls back then!). Gripping stuff and very reassuring, because in those days they did everything different and my mum still managed to raise four healthy children.

When I moved to Singapore with 11 month old E. grandmother Tamtam handed me the next album, the one in which I move to Hong Kong (8 months old) and later to Singapore (2.5 years old). So, inspired by these guys, who wrote about being six years old in Singapore and being six years old in Boston, I'll write about being a 2.5 year old expat shuttling between Singapore and the Netherlands. And to cover the educational angle, I'll stick in pictures of E. so you lot can compare the past and the present.

Obviously, the first thing everybody will ask about is the heat. I don't remember the heat in Singapore at all. However, I do remember the Netherlands being REALLY cold and that I got to wear a ski suit! I enjoyed the snug warmth so much. Also, I remember being dressed in tights and a woollen dress, which was lovely and again, snugly warm. So I suppose the heat didn't register because that was "normal", whereas the cold was special.

Also, we went to feed the ducks. Another REALLY COOL thing, which we didn't get to do in Singapore on account of there not being ducks. (There still aren't.) However, in Singapore we'd have the excitement of snakes sneaking into our house every once in a while.

My mum and me at my grandparents house, 1981

Feeding the ducks living opposite my grandparents place, 1981

E. watching the fish at Mount Faber Park, accompanied by uncle W., S. and grandfather Tamtam, 2012

The Netherlands was mandarin country. I stuffed myself with mandarins. I gorged on mandarins. I adored mandarins. And let me tell you that E. has followed in her mothers footsteps - to Granddad D.'s horror when he saw me peeling-feeding-peeling-feeding-peeling-feeding until all ten mandarins were gone. But let me ease his worry by saying that the lovely little mandarins have disappeared from the stores after Chinese New Year, so E.'s back on a diet of tiny bananas (of which she usually gets three, this to my mind being equal to one big banana). Recently we've succesfully added rambutan to our arsenal of weird looking local fruit.

And guess what? I also remember rambutan. Another one of those things like red bean paste - I thought it was lychees I remembered and reckoned that they tasted sort of different because they were not fresh but out of a tin, but no! It's because the taste I remembered was actually rambutan and not lychee at all.

A funny thing I remember about the Netherlands: being inside a lot. This contrasted with life in Singapore, where I'd basically spend my waking hours in the garden, semi- or fully naked. We'd always be playing with water in some way or another, or I'd be drawing. I loved drawing. (Later on, I also loved treating my younger siblings like puppets, dressing them up and making them act out stuff, like get married or go to school, but that's another album.)

Our house, as seen from the back yard, 1981 

My birthday party (December) in our garden, 1981 

My dad coaxing me into the water at the Hollandse Club, 1981

E.'s life is not the same. We live in an apartment and have no garden. My parents told me that after they moved in, the prices in their area went up and they couldn't have afforded the house had they arrived a few months later. So nothing new there. Still, E. loves water and Singapore offers generous play grounds for kids to run wild in, both paid (such as at the zoo, which has an amazing water playground including a castle and loads of fountains) and unpaid (such as at the Jacob Ballas garden or at a number of shopping malls).

Our balcony, november 2012

Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, march 2012

E. went swimming with her grandparents in our pool, march 2012

While the memories of home visits and grandparents visiting have acquired a golden glow in retrospect, my memories of our helpers (we had several in slow succession) are dim to non-existent. I mean, they were there, I can sort of see them in my mind chopping stuff in the kitchen, but I can't remember them holding me, playing with me or comforting me - and they did all those things, according to my mum. In fact, my grandmother told me that I spoke enough Filipino to ask them for stuff like milk from the fridge. But I have more memories of my father than of the helpers, even though he worked long hours and travelled a lot.

Someone who did manage to leave a lasting impression in my early childhood days: Woody Woodpecker. My father worked at Philips, so we'd get all this groovy technology stuff, such as a video recorder with several three hour tapes filled with Woody Woodpecker cartoons (this is my memory. This might not be factual). The TV was in the parental bedroom and I'd bounce up and down on their bed while watching.

Next week part II: expat toddler life in Singapore.

maandag 23 april 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Cycling life

S. likes cycling. But as I have mentioned before, Singapore is a tiny island. Which means there are no long, winding, deserted provincial routes to take. Instead, enthusiastic cyclists ride the highways and race each other over fly overs (S. sometimes wins these sprints and on those days the beaming of his smile rivals the glare of the sun). Also, it is hot in Singapore. Especially in that blazing sun. However, Singaporeans are all for cycling. Which has led the enthusiasts to the obvious solution (no, not bicycle lanes, fellow Dutchies!): cycle at 6am. (The real fanatics go at 5am, in order to get those extra kilometers done before the sun rises and motorized traffic gets going.)

Yes. S. gets up at least once every weekend at 5am to go cycling at 6am.

He has gracefully let me photograph him on a random Saturday - of course, this has nothing to do with trying to show off his superior stamina and self discipline. (Although he'd not mind me pointing out that it takes a real man to get up and go at that time of the morning and still win the last sprint of the day.) 

Another thing S. would not mind me pointing out: He's got tan lines on his arms! And on his legs! (This is REALLY cool in cycling circles.) Also, take note: S. has two breakfasts on cycling days, one before on his own and one after with the guys - wasn't there someone else who likes to double up on meals in our household?

(bonus picture: look, tan lines!)

vrijdag 20 april 2012

Expat bestaan, rust in huis

Borneo, januari 2012

De belangrijkste reden waarom ons leven in Singapore fijner is dan ons leven in Nederland was, heeft niks te maken met waar ons huis woont. En toch vrees ik met grote vreze voor het moment dat we weer westwaarts zullen keren.

Singapore is schoon, veilig, van alle gemakken voorzien (zo kocht ik zojuist in de promotion van de Carrefour een chocolade Sinterklaas voor S.), kindvriendelijk, warm, groen en, inmiddels, gezellig. Een aantal van die dingen is Nederland meestal niet: schoon, veilig, kindvriendelijk en warm. Maar met die verschillen kan ik leven.

Singapore is ook klein - vele malen kleiner dan Nederland. Alles is 'hier'. Alles gebeurt 'hier'. (Zeker in ons geval, aangezien we boven het hipste uitgaansgebied van de stad wonen, op loopafstand van het winkelmecca). Dat heeft ook wel nadelen: alles is duur, want niks komt van eigen bodem en alles wordt geimporteerd. Maar het is wel mooi om in een wereldstad te wonen en de toeristen met grote ogen voorbij te zien paraderen (zeker als we met E. uit eten gaan in datzelfde hippe uitgaansgebied en de obers geen spier vertrekken maar aan komen draven met een kinderstoel en een plastic bord met bestek). Toch zal ik het ook wel heel prettig vinden om weer een speeltuin om de hoek te hebben en naar een kinderboerderij te gaan.

Wat ik wel zal missen, gruwelijk zal missen zelfs, is ons huidige stressvrije bestaan. Die zorgeloosheid is gebaseerd op twee pijlers, die in theorie in Nederland te repliceren zouden moeten zijn:

1. S. werkt zo dichtbij dat hij in een half uurtje naar huis wandelt (vijf minuten met een taxi). Het mooie: hij vertrekt op dezelfde tijd als in Nederland, komt thuis op dezelfde tijd als in Nederland, maar heeft wel twee uur langer gewerkt en hoeft de laptop dus niet meer open te klappen.

2. E. is 's middags thuis en drentelt om mij heen, terwijl ik boodschappen doe, de was in de machine gooi (en er weer uithaal), kook en opruim achter haar sloddervossenkontje. Als S. thuis komt, staat het eten klaar en zit E. daar vrolijk met twee handjes in te graaien om alle macaroni eruit te vissen. Of ze beschildert zichzelf met yoghurt. Maar als ze de deurklink hoort kraken, strekt ze haar armpjes uit en schreeuwt blij "papa!"

In theorie zou dit ook in Nederland moeten kunnen. Maar zo was ons leven niet, nadat E. geboren was en we allebei werkten. De wekker ging elke ochtend om zes uur af, zodat S. om zeven uur de deur uit kon naar Den Haag en ik mezelf en E. in een uur tijd waste, aankleedde, voederde en ondertussen duimde dat ze in hemelsnaam maar geen vieze luier zou krijgen want dan stond het hele strakke schema op losse schroeven. Ging het goed, dan leverde ik haar om acht uur bij het kinderdagverblijf af. Meestal was ze het tweede kindje. Soms het derde. Soms het eerste.

Om half vijf 's middags was S. kantoordag voorbij. Hij stapte in de auto, belde mij niet over mogelijke files (want ik raakte daar enorm gestresst van, juist op het moment dat mijn dagelijkse deadline in volle vaart naderde) en arriveerde meestal rond zes uur bij het kinderdagverblijf, een half uurtje voor sluitingstijd. E. was vaak het laatste kindje en strontchagrijnig, want moe en hongerig.

Thuis gooide S. een bakje babyvoer in de magnetron, parkeerde E. op een veilige plek met speeltjes en ging zich omkleden. Meestal kwam ik thuis als de magnetron pingde, precies op tijd om E. eten te geven. Na de maaltijd deed S. haar in bad, terwijl ik het volwassenmaal kookte en, als dat nodig was, ook nieuw in te vriezen baby-eten. Na het badje was het mijn beurt om met een warm flesje melk het wicht in slaap te soezelen, terwijl S. in de studeerkamer zijn mail checkte om te zien of er na vijf uur nog ontwikkelingen waren geweest (ja).

Rond half negen begon 'onze' avond. En rond tien uur was die weer afgelopen. Acht uur later begon het van voren af aan.

Dit is helemaal niet bijzonder. Dit is hoe ik het overal om me heen zag gebeuren. Dit is waarom de Hollandse eigenaren van Marmonfosse in de Vogezen besloten hun boel te pakken, kamer voor kamer een afgelegen landhuis te restaureren en een pension te beginnen - ook al hadden ze geen geld en twee kinderen. Als een kind langere dagen maakt dan de ouder, dan is er iets fundamenteel scheef, legde de vader mij uit. Ik merk dat in ons huis de rust is neergedaald, nu een van de twee - noodgedwongen - uit de rat race is gestapt.

Maar dit is geen pleidooi dat de helft van elk ouderlijk paar dan maar de baan moet opzeggen - een nanny, grootmoeder, tante, buurvrouw, au pair of gastouder kan voor precies dezelfde rust zorgen. En dan nog zijn er allerlei goede redenen waarom ouders liever kiezen voor een kinderdagverblijf dan hun nageslacht de hele dag in zijn piere-kindereentje thuis te laten zitten.

Dit is uberhaupt geen pleidooi. Ik heb geen antwoorden. Ik hou van mijn werk en ik mis het, heel erg, nog steeds. Maar de rust die in ons huis heerst is zalig en we hebben weer plezier met elkaar. Ook doordeweeks.

En nu moet ik eten gaan koken.

East Coast Park, maart 2012

woensdag 18 april 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: childcare

Most of the children at E.'s daycare are Singaporean. This does not make financial sense.

Most Singaporean household that can afford it, have a live-in domestic helper. Her wages are, usually, a little cheaper than the cost of full time daycare, the arrangement is a lot more flexible than daycare (even though hours usually run from 7am to 7pm, breakfast, lunch and dinner are included, as are Saturday mornings) and the employer gets the added bonus of a clean house and a meal on the table.

Those Singaporeans who cannot afford a helper, usually have a family arrangement to help them out with child care, either an aunt, a grandmother or grandfather who looks after the child (it's not unusual to be told by an elderly taxi driver that he prefers working the night shift so he and his wife can look after their grandchildren during the day).

From the age of eighteen months old, children are deemed old enough to go to school - including uniforms, backpacks and, in some cases, homework. This is an important decision, since it's actually quite hard to get into a good school - making sure they get in at the earliest possible stage ("playgroup") makes it much easier enter the highly competitive "kindergarten" and "primary" phases. However this is not the same as daycare: most children go to school from 9am to 12am, three to five mornings a week. This is often supplemented by enrichment classes, for example Chinese, ballet or public speaking (or swimming - which we do).

Such enrichment classes are part and parcel of "kiasu" parenting, making sure your little one is ahead in the race for education and knowledge. "Kiasu" is a Chinese Hokkien term meaning "afraid to lose" and it is a well-known characteristic of all aspects of Singaporean life (for instance: if you go to a presentation with a buffet afterwards, Singaporeans will start off by loading their plates with as much food as possible before going in to listen, out of fear of losing out on the food). Unfortunately, because almost all Singaporean parents adhere to the kiasu-style, it gets harder and harder to get ahead. Which is why toddlers might go for enrichment classes in English and calculus.

But knowing all this, understanding the differences, I was still wondering why parents were shelling out for their little ones to go to E.'s daycare centre. Why were they not cared for by a helper or a family member? Why were they not in school? Why choose the expensive option of a childcare centre?

Looking for answers, I asked the Singaporeans I know and searched the kiasuparents forum. The answer is so much simpler than I would have imagined. Helpers are generally non-Singaporean and are not trained childcare professionals. So though they might love the little ones with all their hearts, they are not to be entrusted with the filling of the brain during the golden years. (They tend to stick the child in front of the television while they get on with cooking and cleaning, was an often voiced fear.) Grandparents are generally doting, which is lovely as the exception but not on a day-to-day-let's-raise-a-responsible-human-being basis. Schools only fill a few hours every week, don't feed the children and necessitate enrichment classes.

E.'s daycare centre on the other hand takes care of all her meals (this is why E. generally has two breakfasts and two lunches - one Asian and one Western each) and is known for it's strong educational slant. Mommy Agnesost notes on the kiasuparents forum: "... I can see positive improvements (discipline and language ability) within my child. His mandarin level has improved drastically. So far, I do no send for my child for any enrichment course. I find that the school is suffice to provide strong academic base for my child." [sic]

Education is of the highest importance in Singapore - so maybe, after the costs for tuition, school and enrichment classes are added up, our expensive daycare centre is actually quite a bargain.

I don't know if E. speaks Mandarin yet. But she does speak English. The teachers taught her how to say "teacher" - and that's what she calls me now too.

maandag 16 april 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture Post: Little India and Haji Lane

Way back when Sir Stamford Raffles, Singapore's British founding father (not that it was a desert island before the Brits landed), was laying out the street map and colonizing the Forbidden Hill, he decided to divide Singapore into ethnic quarters. Everybody, the Chinese, the Colonials, the Indians, the Malays and the Arabs, were to have their own space. (The Colonial quarter is nowadays also known as the "Civic Quarter".) The Singaporeans took to this with gusto (well, after a little rioting in the sixties anyway, forcing Lee Kuan Yew to take power and turn the island state from a pirate's nest into the safest, cleanest, best-behaved prosperous country in the world*) and each quarter still retains its special atmosphere.

These pictures I took in Little India, where even in Singapore the Indians manage to import some of their unpredictability and independent spirit (people cross the street without waiting for the traffic light! Merchandise on the curbs blocking the way! I even saw some trash lying around - gasp!). Nearby Haji Lane and Arab Street are partly exactly what you'd expect (veiled ladies shopping for fabric) and partly exactly the opposite (hip Singaporean designer showcasing their wares among graffiti'd murals).

This does not mean Singapore is segregated - far from it. I saw Chinese altars in Little India, short-skirted women shopping for silk in Arab Street and lots of plants decorated in the Chinese fashion with lucky red bows and strings everywhere. This is why Singapore is known as "Asia for beginners".

Little India

Work in progress near an HDB block (apartment buildings by the Housing Development Board, home to 80 percent of Singaporeans). Note the four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil) and the apologetically bowing man on the sign.


Arab Street

Haji Lane

* Do not quote me on this criminally short summary of Singaporean history, which is doubtlessly not only factually incorrect but does not even manage to convey a smidgeon of the spirit of what actually happened.