Singapore Solo

After Edu-Dine on Friday I walked from City Hall to Boat Quay to meet Ken and Ida for drinks at Hideout. It was a cool night, and my higher-than-usual heels were surprisingly comfortable, so I walked. Round the back of Parliament House, past The Arts House, light playing on its walls to an actually rather charming version of that “Let’s take a little trip around Singapore town on a Singapore city bus” tune. Across Cavenagh Bridge, dotted with tourists oohing and aahing at the view of the Esplanade, facing one way, and down the quays, facing the other. Two real cats among the Kucinta sculptures.

In Hideout, Colin messaged asking if I wanted to go to Phuture, but I decided my toes were too vulnerable in my dressy shoes. When we parted ways for the night, I meandered through the streets, taking an extra-long route to the not-so-nearest bus stop, simply because I was enjoying the walk. Along South Bridge Road, tourists stopped me and asked for directions. I directed people to Clarke Quay, to the Fullerton Hotel, to the War Memorial Park. I finally reached Hill Street Fire Station, which I’ve always rather liked, and waited just beyond it for the bus home.

There seemed to be a buzz and a euphoria in the air that I don’t usually sense. The tourists seemed genuinely excited by what they were seeing, and where they were, and amazingly, I was too. Singapore is beautiful by night, whether you’re looking at gleaming restored colonial buildings around the Padang, the dark quiet hulk of skyscrapers in Shenton Way, or the fluorescent town centres in the housing estates.

A year on from my return, and I could actually stand to watch the National Day Parade today. I still rolled my eyes at a lot of the commentary eg. “This lively dance truly reflects the passion of our youth for arts and sports!” but I watched the singing of the national songs happily enough.

I’m still not sure I can sing along to Home with all sincerity – if home is defined by “where my dreams wait for me” and “where my senses tell me” then I’m afraid we’re still pretty much stuck in London. I’ve also always found the line “This is where I won’t be alone” particularly meaningless, in that I am addicted to London precisely because I can be completely alone there and still completely blissful.

But progress is being made, albeit in baby steps. My Friday night walk was a taste of what’s possible for me and Singapore, even when we’re all alone.

Home Bittersweet Home

Perhaps some of you may wonder if walking through the Heathrow departure lounge trying to stop sobbing gets any easier the second time round. It doesn’t. You can deal with it differently – I hid behind the Telegraph until the plane was well into the air this time, instead of pressing myself against the window shuddering – but either way, things get soggy.

* * *

I got home having had no or very little sleep due to the two louts behind me who spent most of the London-Bangkok flight loudly telling a Thai woman about their girlfriends in Thailand (Graham has two, Ashley only has one, I think), and later due to the need to not fall asleep in Bangkok airport and miss my transfer. My mother then informed me that it was my Sunday obligation to attend 6 pm mass instead of the solemnization ceremony later that day of the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Never mind that I had deliberately shortened my initially planned holiday just so that I could be at her wedding. Apparently, Pei Ee would “understand” me missing the most important part of the wedding since I would be present at the big banquet later which is usually far more meaningful to a couple’s parents than the couple themselves.

An argument, much stress, and a tearful call to Alec later, I took the drastic step of text messaging Pei Ee seeking confirmation that no, she would not fucking “understand”. Confirmation came in the form of Pei Ee actually sending her bridal car to pick me up from my home and take me to Sentosa. Within half an hour, I wriggled into my dress, threw stockings, makeup and hair products into a bag, and rode to Sentosa in the front seat.

* * *

Attending a wedding just hours after parting from Alec at the departure gates was never going to be easy. This poem was read at the wedding dinner, and I hope the couple will forgive me for co-opting it to describe my own feelings.

And in Life’s noisiest hour,
There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee,
The heart’s Self-solace and soliloquy.
You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within;
And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart
Thro’ all my Being, thro’ my pulse’s beat;
You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light,
Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve
On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake.
And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you,
How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you.
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge

* * *

As I was leaving the dinner later that night, I shook Tjin Kai’s hand meaning to congratulate him and say something merry. All I managed was “Take care of her” before I started tearing up and hastily moved on out of the ballroom. It might just have been residual waters from what I had already shed that weekend, but I’d like to think it had nothing to do with me, or the man I had had to leave behind at Heathrow, or the old life I had briefly lived again in London only to have to abandon once more. I think it was just about Pei Ee, the gem of a friend who I have loved for 18 years and is now blissfully happy. Congratulations, Pei Ee and Tjin Kai. I wish you all the love and joy in the world.

Non-Grouchy Moments

I meant to write about the Friday night before Chinese New Year: the prosperity god in a Suntec City atrium with enormous breasts that turned out to be unfortunately placed oranges, the first yu sheng of the season on the outdoor balcony of NUSS bar, $6 cocktails, filthy conversations which were hopefully not overheard by too many people due to their extreme offensiveness, the astonishing ability of Mundian To Bach Ke to collectively transform Fay, Yen and me from house-music-induced sleepyheads into dancefloor divas in the Boom Boom Room, the astonishing ability of Yish to climb large sculptures in Raffles Place and get dragged on stage by drag queen cabaret comedians, the astonishing discovery by me that I was thoroughly enjoying myself in Singapore.

I meant to write about judging a debating tournament the next day at Serangoon JC, and being told by a particular teacher that he would never forget how, two years ago, I had rebuilt his team’s shattered confidence after their day of losses and harsh criticism.

I meant to write about last Saturday’s excursion to the mindboggling Mitre Hotel on Killiney Road (Directions: Walk down Killiney Road, away from Orchard Road and past all the food joints. You will see “145” spray-painted on a pillar, and a scary-ass pitch dark driveway on your left, which every intuitive bone in your body tells you not to walk up. Walk up it. Round the bend there will appear a quiet, dimly lighted building vaguely reminiscent of the Bates Motel. You’ve arrived.), where we swigged cheap beer, sat gingerly on ancient dusty mismatched furniture, tiptoed up unlighted staircases to gawk at the unbelievable dilapidation of the first storey, and somehow loved it so much we’re adamant on going back and becoming regulars at the bar.

I meant to write about beginning to find some shreds of meaning in my life in Singapore, but I was too busy living it.

Last night a DJ saved my life

It’s a rare DJ that can transform an exhausted, ridiculously sleep-deprived Michelle in an overcrowded club full of Singaporeans into, well, a happy Michelle, so I guess DJ Jazzy Jeff (yes, Will’s friend in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air who kept going over to the house, annoying Mr Banks and getting physically thrown out) must be one of those DJs.

Before he came on, I was ready to kill. I was annoyed at overdressed people, yet annoyed at myself at the same time for giving in and dressing fractionally better than I would have for a London club (where you could walk in wearing a clown suit and the most anyone would say is “Love the baggy trousers, mate”). I was annoyed at the stupid level of crowding in Phuture, and at incredibly rude people who pushed past others way too violently, or literally just leaned on the people behind them to force them to give way. (Big Bald White Guy, this means you. You’re an asshole, and I just wish I’d elbowed you in your spine a lot harder than I did.)

In the crush of the crowds, I remembered how Russ always managed to protect me, dance behind me without ever hitting me, and look good dancing, all at the same time, and I remembered how far away Russ is now. I remembered Nick and Vish gangsta’ing it up on the empty dancefloor of a Glasgow student union bar, not caring how ridiculous they looked. I remembered trudging painfully up the Ramsay Hall stairs with Gareth in daylight, vowing futilely never to club again and knowing this scenario would repeat itself in the near and irresponsible future.

I felt constrained by the atmosphere of the club, very much a place where people go with people, and don’t tend to strike up random conversations with strangers, and again felt annoyed with myself at the same time for letting them affect me. Coincidentally, the only stranger who struck up a conversation with me the whole night was from England. Go figure. To be fair to the club, and my fellow Singaporeans, I was probably mostly just pissed off because it wasn’t London.

Then Jazzy Jeff came on, and all my acrimony melted away into happy flailing and perspiration. Great selection of material ranging from the obligatory to the obscure, pretty damn inspired treatment of well-known samples and recent hip-pop either through mixing or scratching, some moments of total weirdness like when he played Smells Like Teen Spirit, and always on the right side of the fine line between turntable mastery and turntable wankery. I must admit that his decision to tempt us with the intro of Sound Of Da Police but never actually give us the track frustrated me dreadfully, but maybe everyone else except me is tired of it.

I snapped back into perspective. I was with great company, friends no less dear to me than the ones I’ve left behind. I was witnessing one of the best live mix sets I’ve ever seen. I had a wonderful boyfriend to talk to on the phone when I got back later that night. In England I gained everything and lost nothing. I mustn’t forget to keep focusing on what I gained. I mustn’t forget that I have lost none of that just by having to be somewhere else for a few years.

Home Sour Home

Recent silence is due to the severe illness of my laptop. It happens every summer when I come home – frequent freezing, blue screens of death, restarting itself (and I use Windows 98 so the Blaster worm doesn’t affect me), switching itself off, telling me “Operating system not found” when I try to start it again – and the problems magically disappear when I bring the laptop back to England. Except of course this time there’s no return to England in sight, so I think my baby is toast.

This is just great. Not only does Singapore reduce me to a miserable existence – constantly red eyes, nose won’t stop running, eczema reappears – it also targets one of the few things that makes life here bearable.

As you may have gathered, I am extremely grumpy right now.

Clinging To Perspective

I’m back, vaguely unpacked, in the house my family moved to while I was away, sitting in my new room (the first time I’ve ever had a room to myself at home), typing this while my laptop receives broadband love vibes from the cable modem. We had barbecued stingray, chilli kangkong and crispy baby squid for dinner at my request. Recent events in my sister’s job have kept her working past 10 pm in the past few days, but she spent Sunday cleaning my room and preparing it for me to come home to. My mum is doing my laundry, and the “WELCOME HOME MICHY” banner they kept specially from last year is the first thing I see when I enter the room.

I can’t remember a more miserable 24 hours in my life than those I just went through, but I mustn’t forget that even in the gloom my blessings remain abundant.


I can only give the following explanations and ask you, gentle reader, to forgive me.

I’ve spent the last week saying goodbye. Goodbye to Nick on Sunday, goodbye to John on Monday, to Ireland from Tuesday till today for a few snatched days with Alec, goodbye to other assorted dear friends and Fabric tonight, and Saturday and Sunday are the hardest goodbye of all, because everything I did in the past week finally hits, and I have to get to grips with the realities of packing, going to the airport, and leaving.

When I get back to Singapore on Monday, I’m going to have to study for exams starting on the 13th, combine this with another academic course that starts on the 11th, and try to stop missing London and everyone there.

I will try to blog, really I will. I love it, and feel something’s missing from my inner life when I don’t. But if real life gets in the way over the next month or so, updates may be sparse. Ineffable will also be moving to a new address soon, when my university computer account is terminated. I don’t know what that will be, or if it will even continue under the same name, but it will continue. Please bookmark temporarineffable to check if this one suddenly disappears, and when life is less ridiculously hectic I promise lots of messiness will be sorted out.

I’ll see you on the other side.

23F ISO Almost Happy Ending

I guess you could call it some sort of epiphany. It came on Sunday while I was at mass, as important realizations often do. People who know me may have sensed that I’ve been hearing the clock ticking quite loudly these days, that there is an ever-growing sense of dread in me about the return to Singapore that I increasingly fail to beat back. But on Sunday something changed, subtly. Vague clouds of negativity parted, and I started to feel as if I just have to decide what I want out of these last few months here, and then get sorted and make it happen.

I want to put a decent amount of work into studying for the final stretch of this Masters, because it would simply be stupid to do so well all my life and then flop at this last hurdle out of sheer disorganization. I want to spend time with dear friends I’m going to be leaving, and I want to have studied hard enough on those days so that our time together can be then spent free from study-based guilt or stress from me. I want to spend time with London so I can leave with enough memories of her to last me the years away. I know I can make all this happen if I just decide to stop being lazy.

I want a good ending. I think happy is unlikely, although if it happens I obviously won’t try to convince myself otherwise. I want to leave knowing I lived my life in England to the full right up to the very end, not just by whim or happenstance, but by design, verve, and doing the right thing by myself and everyone I’ve loved here.


Happy new year, everyone. The mayfly project asks people to sum up their year in 20 words. This is my entry:

First class honours degree, church music, debating, a life – juggled successfully. Some disappointments, many blessings. Treasure old friends. Love Alec.

* * *

2003 will be challenging. I have to return to Singapore (reluctantly), and deal with missing everything and everyone that London has been to me since 1999. (Warning: when it happens, there will be soppiness.) I have to find some way to convince myself that I can live and work there happily for the next 6 years, despite heat and humidity that renders me red-eyed, sneezy and itchy, societal and political culture which irritates me on many levels, and an arts and entertainment scene which will obviously fall far short of what London has to offer.

[Note: I haven’t become one of those people that returns to Singapore from a life overseas and can say nothing good about it. There is a lot I like about Singapore. The problem is that there is a lot I love about London.]

It won’t be easy, and given that I have led a charmed life with little or no contact with adversity or discouragements of any real significance, I’m frankly not confident I’ll manage this particularly well. I suppose the best attitude to adopt will be to seek solace in the things I love in Singapore – great food, green city, old friends, family life – and carpe the fucking diem for what remains of my life here.

Singapore Art Museum

I don’t know if I’d rate the Singapore Art Museum particularly highly if I were a foreigner, because it would be full of names I’d never heard of. Even visiting it as a Singaporean, most names apart from Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Ng Eng Teng draw a blank with me. But I found myself enjoying the museum’s permanent collection more than the Rodin exhibition we’d primarily gone to see; perhaps I subconsciously prefer painting to sculpture, or modern over classical, or perhaps it was just the familiarity of paintings I’d seen before on previous visits to the museum – I don’t know. It’s three in the morning and stream-of-consciousness is about all I can manage.

I like this museum, always have. I like its retention of the simple beauty it must have had as a school, the spare elegance it still has as an art museum. Today the revelation hit me that my parents walked the same corridors I was walking down, in the days when it was St Joseph’s Institution and they were students there. They met and romanced here. It’s a beautiful place to be able to remember falling in love in, I think.

I was also struck by the thought that this awareness of a personal history can only happen for me in this country. As far as England is concerned, I didn’t exist before 1999.