Weeks 16 & 17: True Confessions
(04/02/06)

I'm feeling reflective this evening, and I am asking myself, as many of you surely have, why do I write this journal? Why do I insist on, and persist in, recording the sights, tastes, and chance encounters of our every day life in Singapore? Is it to reassure our loved ones that, despite the distance of a full hemisphere separating us, all is well? Or is it to accurately record our experiences in Southeast Asia, so we can look back on them years later and recall, with much more detail than my pitifully weak memory typically allows, the full range of our expatriate adventures?

The answer, I suppose, is both. Unfortunately, reality, grim as it occasionally tends to be, causes these noble objectives to be mutually exclusive now and then. Add in a possible third objective - to provide a fellow American's perspective on trans-continental relocation, on the off chance that someone other than our friends and family actually reads these crazy posts in a quest for guidance on moving to the land of the black spitting cobra - and you have a real mess.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that some of my early entries - those representing the first four weeks of this once-in-a-lifetime (seriously) journey - were accurate, but they were incomplete. My desire in this purposeful but well-intentioned deception was to allow our families to see our initial Asian experiences through a pair of carefully crafted rose-colored glasses, to prevent them from worrying about our sanity, and even (alas) our marriage. Having completely abandoned that protect-the-innocent approach with the painfully honest, and perhaps excessively graphic, content of the previous post, I now will come clean with the whole truth, so the record may be as free from debris as my recently roto-rootered and much improved digestive system. I'll do it quickly, because they say it hurts less when you rip off the thin gauze of pretense all at once. Family, prepare yourselves.

Our first month in Singapore was horrible. At least it was for me. It was like a nightmare, where you fall asleep in one part of the world, and wake up in another, where nothing is familiar, or comfortable, and you don't know anyone, and, okay, you speak the same language as everyone else, but you can't understand anyone, and no one can understand you, because there is an actual accent barrier preventing smooth or even marginally effective communication. And you're so hungry, even though there is plenty to eat, because the taste of everything is tainted, to your uneducated palette, with some strange and unpleasant scent that bears no resemblance at all to any food you have ever consumed. And you don't know where to go to get groceries to make your own meals, because you don't know where to go to get anything, and even when you do figure it out, you don't know what to buy, because all of the food is different, and you can barely pay for those few items you finally do decide to buy, because even the money is different, for crying out loud. So you live on the few boxes of edible treasures you happened to bring with you, a stash that dwindles in quantity at an alarming rate, a rate much faster than that at which you are acquiring and adapting to new tastes. And then after only a few short days in this not-so-brave new world, the only other person that you know (who is over the age of five) starts leaving you alone every day. All day. In a foreign country. Even on the days when the rain won't stop, and shows no promise of ever stopping, and you have nothing to do but stare out the window with new-age diluvian fantasies about being carried off in a floating taxi to the ends of earth occupying the one small part of your rapidly atrophying brain that is not occupied with either serious concerns about your ability to parent the two little unbelievably energetic people who share your space (I mean, really, how many printed spiderman pages can you color before you have to get out and scream a little) or with listening to the ridiculously self-indulgent Disney channel, the only channel on TV with shows that are even remotely age-appropriate, promote its own programming ad nauseum. And you are trapped in this tiny space, where nothing is yours - other than several floor-to-ceiling piles of crap that you thought you couldn't live without but now find you don't really need at all - because even the space isn't yours, and there is absolutely no feeling, no small trace, no faint sensation, or even a little memory, of home. But you can't just get up and go, because, like I said, it won't stop raining. I mean it's been five days. Seriously, FIVE DAYS of incessant, mind-numbing rain. Plus, even if the sun ever were to shine again, the only transportation available, because you left your car and your independence back on the other side of the world, is a shuttle bus that leaves every hour, on the hour; but if you miss it, you're either stuck for another 59 minutes, or you have to resort to calling a taxi and going through the now familiar but still completely frustrating verbal safari routine, where you try so hard to say where you want to go in a clear manner, but you honestly have no idea where it is, much less how to get there. And when that one other person finally gets back from a full and rewarding day of interacting with adults and exercising freedoms like going to the bathroom without screams erupting from the cabin-fever riddled offspring who are surely leading one another to their final demise in the next room, you don't have the energy to speak, because your body is fighting off the effects of jet lag and hyper-humidity-induced dehydration and requires you to retire for the evening shortly after the time at which you hear the sun typically sets, although you don't know for sure, because you haven't seen the sun in FIVE DAYS. And even if you could find the strength to talk, you certainly can't complain to that one other person still in your life, because if he's got a conscience at all (a fact seriously in doubt these days), it surely must be filled to overflowing with a hopefully overwhelming sense of guilt for forcibly removing you and your children from your comfortable home and the comfortable routines of your comfortable life, regardless of how on board with the decision to move you may or may not have been in the first place. And he's working on the laptop - again - anyway, so, really, what's the point? And the next day, when you should be rested from 12 hours of sleep, if only you could sleep for more than five of those hours before your confused circadian rhythm cruelly jolts your body awake - thereafter permitting only sporadic and fitful returns to the land of the nod during the six hours you have to go before the sun allegedly rises - you get to drag yourself out of the most uncomfortable bed you've ever slept in, with a comforter that is two sizes too small, and do it all over again, with a whole new cornucopia of tempting frustrations to choose from; take your pick. Add to this already attractive potpourri the complete absence of readily accessible friends, with whom you were accustomed to vent, and share, and enjoy a beer or two in the driveway under the clever suburban guise of a "playdate," while the kids ran amok in the yard du jour expending the boundless energy that was once so precocious, and now so atrocious, and now you have a much more accurate picture of our introduction to life in Singapore. And not a pretty one at that.

Those were the first 30 days, in all of their gory glory. Yes, we went to a lot of interesting places, and met a lot of interesting people, and smelled a lot of, well, unusual smells. But we were - okay I was - completely miserable.

Once we moved into our temporarily permanent home, though, things improved - a little bit. The boys started school, and I had my mornings free to put away pile after endless pile of more of the aforementioned crap, because although the relocation company had thoughtfully unpacked all of our boxes, in their haste to exit our excessively furnished new home they put our belongings away into whatever spaces were closest at hand, regardless of function or hazard. Let's just say that all of the fatal-if-ingested cleaning chemicals were carefully placed on the easily reachable shelves in the boys' bedroom and leave it at that.

The true turning of the emotional tide came when, the day after I finished re-placing everything into an appropriate location, two handymen crossed our Asian threshold, and they placed on our walls all of the pictures and personal items that make our living space familiar. By the time they arrived, I was too tired and beaten down with the constant application of my self-induced misery to care where this sconce or that picture went, so I let them decide. Most of you can appreciate how completely contrary to my personality this act of decorative submission really was, but I did it anyway. Call it a fun experiment in personal boundaries and what happens when you willfully violate them. As it turns out, they did a great job, and I felt, at long last, like I could call this place home.

And now, things are much better. Really, they are. We have all settled into a fairly standard routine, we have finally met some friends with whom we can just hang out, and we are much, much more familiar with the country and its layout. Even the communication problem seems to have resolved itself. Plus, I am enjoying my job, and, with it, the opportunity to stretch my brain every day and occasionally interact with adults, when I am not crouched over my computer talking to myself like the troll I am inside, that is. I won't pretend that things are perfect, or that I don't miss my friends. But I am content. And the boys are so happy - as they have been from the day we arrived - and that makes me happy.

Take care,
Shannon et al.

No pictures this week.