Today marks my third week in Singapore. This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere apart from Athens and London. This is in fact the longest I’ve been away from London since I moved there in 2009. The longest so far that is, considering the city-state is now my new home.
I forgot what those first few moments in time feel like in your relationship with a new place. When everything is there to discover and nothing has managed to work its way to becoming numb, boring or annoying. Hell, I forgot I used to take photos on the tube, I was THAT excited to be living in London when I first moved there. I forgot how during every waking moment I spent exploring the city, there was something to notice, to catalogue, to get excited over, to compare and contrast to my life in Athens. That short window of time when your steps don’t just take you to the tube stop and then to wherever you need to go looking down to verify the CityMapper route you probably already know by heart. When walking from A to B means spotting street names and doorways and green patches, reading every single ad on public transport and examining the exotic-sounding stops desperately trying to memorise them.
That’s essentially my life right now. Every time I get outside the house, it feels like a new adventure. I stop to spot every single flower and plant I don’t recognise (mainly all of them) and get excited at the sight of a frangipani tree (even though they’re practically everywhere), I become obsessed with taking pictures of palms from every angle. I plan my schedule around different neighbourhoods, walking up and down the city’s streets, feeling like there’s a giant ‘YOU ARE HERE’ sign above me while I attempt to patch together my knowledge of where certain streets meet and which roads lead to which part of town. There’s that little spark when it finally clicks that taking a left on Craig Road will bring me right to Keong Saik Road and eventually the Chinatown Complex. I try to observe every single detail, making mental maps about where I detect a food haunt I want to come back to, a cute photo opp or a place where I can buy cheap sandals (goodbye winter boots, you’ll be somewhat missed).
So I’m reliving that short window of time again only in a completely different country and continent and there are things I hadn’t realised I had forgotten or that I’d have to learn for the first time. Things that come with living in a new house, like fumbling my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night with eyes wide shut knowing exactly where I’ll find the door handle and which step to be mindful of. Adjusting to life with the air-con on, forever feeling either too cold or too warm and fighting over 1 degree Celsius difference at night. Or things that’ll take longer to become second nature, like the banality of picking any type of grocery while not recognising almost any of the brands. Realising I’m inept at making any kind of decision when it comes to buying rice because they’re sold in the 2.5 and the 5 and 10s of kilos and they have names and varieties and provenances I don’t understand.
And then there are the things that are uniquely tied to this city that are completely new to me and I enjoy during this journey of discovery. Like completely losing track of the month of the year because the weather is always warm and there’s nothing perceptible about seasons changing. Enjoying the coolness in the air after a sudden and wet thunderstorm and the droplets of rain hanging on tropical flowers. Looking at the many signs in languages I don’t understand and wonder what’s that thing I’m missing and how can I find out. Stumbling across pockets of traditional Singapore life against the backdrop of skyscrapers and futuristic buildings and marvelling at the blend of old and new in this city. Getting asked ‘have you eaten?’ instead of ‘how are you?’ and slowly understanding more about Singaporeans’ obsession with food. Feasting on food from every part of Asia and then parts within parts – biting into juicy dumplings and scooping up sushi rice and balancing Japanese pickles on my chopsticks. Mastering the types of kuehs and where I can find the best in the city. Drinking hot tea despite the temperature, oolong and green sencha and more and craving kopi c all the time.
I’m sure there’ll be a time when I’ll stop picking up fallen frangipani flowers to bring home and I’ll be able to give you my expert opinion on where to get the best satay in the city. For now, I’m excited about being excited about the journey ahead.