Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hazy Nights

Forgot my glasses, again.
Even as the haze wreaks havoc on Singapore, it's business as usual for those who like to go out and about. That wouldn't be me, but occasionally I make an exception for some cultural interaction or what I like to call: wine with a view. And from the tallest building in Singapore, the view is definitely assured even with a PSI level in the unhealthy range. It helps to pretend it's winter in Verona when the entire city is cloaked in a thick fog.
Expat Living Magazine was celebrating the launch of a cooking series hosted by Altitude-1's Chef Chris Millar. I really can't wait to see the videos and hopefully add to my simple (very simple) dinner repertoire. And as my eldest son Alexander will attest, I need all the help I can get in that department. In fact, I almost suspect he masterminded the whole event. The boy is always hungry.
Just the other night, as I thoughtfully offered him a piece of cheese after swimming practice, he asked: "What is this House on the Prairie?"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Young Expats Grow Up

Alexander on his way to represent Turkey at Model United Nations at his school UWC

Defining Turkey's position on the Syrian refugee crisis (photo by Kit Ling)

One of the greatest things (and biggest challenges) about growing up as an expat is the daily contact with people from all over the world. The Model United Nations conference held at Alexander's school this past weekend, merely reiterated on a diplomatic scale what he gets to experience on a social level every day. He shared the early morning rides to the conference with a friend from Aberdeen, met students from Cambodia and the Philippines, ate yummy samosas during break with kids from Australia and Thailand. Together, they tackled the complex issues dominating the news, passed notes to the cutest delegates (this is High School after all), and came away with a better understanding of just how very connected we all really are. And hopefully, their world just got a little bit smaller.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ten Things I Did This Morning On My Daughter's First Day at a New School

"You can get off the bus now, Mom."

1) I marvelled at how quickly she jumped up from her bed and got dressed like a serious little soldier, her grandfather Nonno Mario would have been proud. When she asked me if she had put her skirt on backwards-she had- I said yes, helped her straighten it and didn't make a joke.

2) I prepared breakfast which she didn't eat. I said that was fine since I wasn't usually hungry at 6:00 am either. I put it all in baggies and placed it in her bag so she could eat it when she got to school.

3) I tied her hair in a pony tail because it looked neater that way. After all, she was on her way to school not a fashion show. I didn't tell her that.

4) I put the double band aids on the back of her feet so her new shoes wouldn't hurt.

5) I prepared her lunch box and enough snacks to last the entire day of school, possibly week: fruit salad, pretzels, cookies, kale chips (bought on request of her older brother who keeps us up to date on nutritious snacks). I remembered to include a napkin and a fork.

6) I slipped a little note in her lunch box wishing her good luck on her first day of school.

7) I purposedly didn't fill up her water bottle. I wouldn't want her to drink on the bus and then feel nauseous. She can fill it at school like her brother does.

8) I accompanied her downstairs for her bus in the darkness that is Singapore at 6:50 am all year round, even in the middle of August. I thought about how, thank God, we would no longer have to wait, scheme, and beg for a taxi to pick us up on the side of the road this year. I kind of missed it already.

9) I took the obligatory photo which she smiled for and her brother, a brand new high schooler, merely tolerated. Actually getting on the bus to take it may have been a bit much, but that won't be happening again, I promise.

10) I came back upstairs to a very quiet house, made coffee, and then realized I had forgotten to give her a hug goodbye.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You Can Take The Girl Out of Singapore...

... but you can't take Singapore out of the girl!

Eliot on the Amalfi Coast, mecca of foodies everywhere, eating the curry noodles she packed in her valise to use for emergencies; such as feeling poorly because of an ear infection. Some choose macaroni and cheese as a comfort food...others choose curry noodles.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Beware: Crocodiles in Singapore

My kind of crocodile! (photo creds to Andrew Pearce)

"Crocodiles can't jump out of the water, can they?" 
No Eliot, they prefer staying in the water. 
"And they don't like eating people?" 
No, they don't like eating people. 
"Because they did eat Captain Hook's hand." 
That's just a movie. 
"I know that's just a movie. But, what if you fall into the water, and your hand is close to their mouth...then they will eat it, right?"
Ah, the class trip to the Singapore Wetland Reserve.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Worst Parenting Moment

Sure, some nudity. It's Italy after all.
Last night after dinner.
Alexander, would you say my worst parenting moment was letting you and your sister have slingshots or watch La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) last summer?
Eliot: "Oh yeah, I remember when that naked woman runs into the wall."
You remember that? I was really counting on the jetlag to kick in...
Alexander: "No, probably that other movie was worse with all the naked men jumping into the pond."
A Room with a View? I last saw that in college. All I remembered was the girl with the curly hair and the beautiful countryside.
Eliot: "That was so funny."
Okay, so that was my worst parenting moment? Letting you and your sister watch A Room with a View. We can all agree on that?
Alexander: "No. Right now is your worst parenting moment. I'm trying to do my homework and you keep asking me questions."
You're right...anybody want to watch The Bicycle Thief?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Verona

"Did you remember your ticket?"

Yesterday after school, Alexander went on his own to buy a snorkel and new goggles. The shop is pretty far from our house but since I was staying home with Eliot and a friend of hers, he assured me that he would be fine getting there alone. Before leaving the house, we mapped out exactly which bus he would need to take. Bus 124 in the direction of St. Andrew's Cathedral alighting at Colemant St. I reminded him that on the way back he would need to cross the street before getting bus 124, in order to get the 124 going in the opposite direction (back to our house). I imagine that in his joy at holding his much desired snorkel and goggles, he completely forgot this tiny detail.
As soon as he texted me: "This bus is traveling in the strangest places," I realized he was on the wrong bus. Or more specifically, on the right bus but in the wrong direction. I quickly texted back: "Get off at the next stop and cross the street, then board the same number bus. And you will reach home." By the time he got home, it was dark outside but he wasn't overly perturbed. Nor was I, since he had texted me again from the correct bus saying he was on his way.

This brought me back to when I was 11 and the same thing happened to me. The 'only' difference was that, of course, I didn't have a phone and so couldn't receive that vital piece of advice from my mom of getting off the bus and crossing the street. I decided, instead, that the best course of action was to stay on the bus; figuring that eventually the bus would do some sort of loop and go all the way back to the original stop I had boarded at. But that's not what happened.
The bus drove further away into the countryside until the streets were completely unrecognizable. One by one, the passengers got off until, to my utter dismay, I was the only one left. I was a little scared but completely froze when the bus came to a complete halt in the middle of an open field. I remember thinking this can't be happening to me. I was a precocious child who read a lot, so worse case scenarios flooded my brain, I crouched under the seat. To this day, I have never felt that scared and helpless. Eventually, I mustered enough courage to ask the bus driver (in a shaky voice) why the bus had stopped.
The driver nonchalantly pulled out a sandwich and said he was on his break. No other details. In retrospect, he could have reassured a little girl, who was obviously lost and scared that we would soon be on our way, but I guess he wasn't the chatty, comforting type.
Finally, the bus started its engine and slowly passengers started boarding again. After getting off at my stop, I ran all the way home straight into my mother's arms. I guess this means I'll stop grumbling about his having a phone. Snapchat? Now, that's another story...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

All Things Considered

A Chair with a View (photo creds to Alexander)

So Alexander, what do you remember best about last summer?
"That night when I dipped those cantucci biscuits in Vin Santo while we were watching "La Grande Bellezza," in that farmhouse in Tuscany."
Seriously? And I thought he was going to say when I bought him a slingshot...
It's like the boy is living in a Bertolucci film.
I feel like my work here is done.

When the Cat is Away...

A sure sign your (Italian) Dad is away: dinner at 5 pm. In fairness, when there are dumplings this good to be had, any time is a good eat.

Can we have more?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dear Diary...of An Expat in Singapore

Over the years, this blog has received countless emails asking for advice on the disparate topics concerning life as an expat. And even though I am not an advice columnist, I have always enjoyed hearing from readers, recognizing many of their concerns as the ones I faced before starting my own expat journey, and trying to answer them to the best of my ability. I wanted to share some of the most poignant, right here on the blog, in the hope that other readers might find the words useful as well.

Dear Diary of An Expat in Singapore,

I am very worried about moving to Singapore with my husband and toddler. My husband says this is the chance of a lifetime. (We would be coming for his career.) But I'm not so sure. I will be leaving behind my family, friends, and my job. Basically everything I know and I will be alone with my two year old son. I've been reading your blog and it sounds like you have a wonderful life there. What do you think I should do?
Signed Jitters

Dear Jitters,

When I was ten, my parents took me out of the international school I had been attending and put me in a local Italian one. I went from being a straight A student to feeling like the dumbest student in the class because I didn't know how to read or write in Italian. All the things I loved about my old school, the amazing library where I would lose myself in books during lunchtime, the spelling bees, the poetry classes I loved, didn't exist in the new school. I felt like a misfit. I was miserable and started having headaches. The feeling of being thrown in the deep end and sense of insecurity stayed with me a long time. The only thing that made it bearable were my new classmates, intrigued by the new student, they rallied around me and helped me. That, and the feeling that I absolutely didn't want to fail at this new endeavor.

Jitters, I'm not going to lie, moving halfway across the world is not going to be easy.You are leaving behind a lot, almost everything that defines you. Some people would jump at the chance to re-invent themselves, but you are not one of them. You didn't say much about your job but I'm going to assume it's one that doesn't pay anywhere near your husband's but is something you love doing. Possibly something you got after a long, expensive liberal arts education. You are probably feeling something akin to bitterness at being 'asked' to give it all up but are having a hard time putting it into words without sounding petty or like a major downer.
Jitters, there is nothing more destabilizing to a marriage than having one spouse completely gung-ho about a decision that concerns the family, while the other spouse has grave misgivings. Except for maybe not saying anything at all until the resentment builds up to a boiling point. You need to talk to your husband before that point and share your doubts. Get him to promise he will be supportive and helpful and all that mumbo jumbo. Appreciate his best intentions but then realize that in reality there's not a lot he is actually going to do. And that's not because he doesn't love you but it's because he is going to be knee deep in a new job with new colleagues which most likely involves a lot of travel and long hours. The bottom line is you are going to be on your own...a lot, with a toddler.  Oh, he might bring his single, male colleague home for dinner on a Saturday night because that's what he thought you meant when you told him you wanted to see more people. (Try not to hold that one against him too much) but really your happiness and serenity is going to be up to you.
My best piece of advice is for you to travel light, come with an open mind, and a sense of humor. Surround yourself with people who are in a similar position as you: newly arrived expats with small children. Do not splurge on a babysitter to go out for late night drinks with that young, childless couple you just met by the pool. These are not your people. At least, not for the time being. Spend time getting to know that other frazzled looking mom at the playground. She may not be the one you envisioned being your bff but right now one hour with her will be more comforting and relaxing than ten with someone without children. And if her kid is slightly older than yours, that's a bonus. You'll get concrete tips on how to get your kid potty trained or how to eat veggies. Form a playgroup. Possibly over strong coffee. Next, get somebody to help you clean the house. Just because you left your low-paying job back at home editing articles, does not mean you want to suddenly start cleaning toilets. Find a nice preschool where you can drop your child off for a few hours a day, explore the city, look into volunteering, sign up to become a museum docent, maybe learn Mandarin. Slowly but surely, those jitters will disappear and one day, you will realize that your biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with's the discovery of your own self-reliance. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Man is his own star."

Best of luck, Diary of An Expat in Singapore

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thank You, Random Construction Site.

Thank you, random construction site for almost totally obstructing the view from our balcony. All that gorgeous greenery had actually gotten to be a drag. Who needs to see tropical vegetation outside when you can just switch on the National Geographic Channel. And it's so much more interesting to see another high rise condo. Not to mention, the added bonus of non stop drilling and hammering this past year...Let's just hope the neighbors are friendly.

"We remembered the elevator, right?"

Monday, January 12, 2015

There's No Place Like Carnegie...

Sometimes, it would be nice to close my eyes and just tap my heels, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to get to a place that is faraway. A place, for example, like New York City. I heard there was a sold out concert last night at Carnegie Hall. Well done, Julian!
"How do you get to Carnegie?" (photo creds Carolyn Youri)