Saturday, October 22, 2011

Run, forest, run

Only 6 weeks to the marathon now, so I've been trying to step up my training. I think I'm getting to a point where my body is probably in both the best and worst condition of my life. There's no doubt that when I can do 20km on the treadmill in the gym without too much stress, followed by another 15km on a bike, my stamina is starting to get into marathon-capable territory. However, the truth is there's a reason I stopped at 20km, and I'm finding myself having to take extraordinary measures to keep my body going. I'm not talking about performance enhancing drugs, strict diets or Satanic pacts. All I'll say is that for anyone planning anything similar, lycra shorts and Vaseline are your friends.

On a more positive note, despite the humidity, running is a nice way to explore Singapore. And getting out into the forest, especially during a thunderstorm, is liberating and a great way to escape the stresses of the city. As can be seen in this map of the last 2 runs I did (yellow 29km, red 17km), the distance I'm covering isn't an insignificant portion of the country which is also quite satisfying. Perhaps if I'm ever feeling particularly energetic (unlikely while on night shifts) and sick of the daily traffic jams, I could run home from work (marked with a white cross).

I have to watch out for dangerous animals though. Like the monkeys who were stubbornly blocking my path and made me nearly fall into the reservoir. Or the huge eagle that seemed to be circling over my head for a while; I thought it might be a kite, but there was a pretty intense lightning storm in progress so anyone flying it would have to be even crazier than I am. And even when I return home I still have to watch out for this beast who loves the smell of my sweaty trainers.

The marathon race route for this year has just been released so I should study that and ponder what I have let myself in for. I'm sure that no banana has ever, or will ever, taste as good as that banana at 29km.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's been a summer

I've not posted anything on here in the last few weeks due to apathy caused by a creeping ennui, feeling like I had nothing interesting to report on. Thinking back though, there's actually been some cool stuff going on so I thought I'd give a quick summary of how August went.

After getting back from India, it started to sink in a bit more that I'm not just on holiday in Singapore; probably due to going on holiday FROM Singapore. I also booked my flights back to England for Christmas so that should confuse my brain even more about where I live (I'll be back between 17th December and 4th January). I guess the price for being a 'global citizen' is that actually you don't feel like a citizen of anywhere in particular. Especially since my British passport is currently sat in a processing centre in Hong Kong!

August seemed to be a good month for visiting museums since me and Lyn went to the Art & Science Museum, the Art Museum, and National Museum (twice). One day when I'm feeling the rare mixture of boredom and enthusiasm I plan to put up some photos and things from the museums since there's some pretty interesting stuff. Especially in the Dali exhibit at the Art & Science museum. One important point to note though is that in these museums there were NO PEOPLE. Hopefully this doesn't reflect a lack of cultural interest here, maybe there was just a Man U match on TV on those days.

Trying to cook for the first time in 6 months was a mixed success: A cake that looked great but imploded into a blueberry-soaked mess upon removal from the baking tin, a batch of macarons which varied wildly in size and shape, and butterless eggs benedict which had an unusual olive oily aftertaste. In general, the things either looked great, or tasted great....but never both at the same time. I never could get my head around dualism. Perhaps next time I need to make 2 batches of everything. One inedible but handsome batch to look at while I eat the ugly one that tastes right.

August was also Lyn's birthday, Singapore's first presidential election for 18 years (Tony Tan beat 3 other guys named Tan in a slightly farcical race which reminded me how much I despise rolling news), national day, Hari Raya Puasa, hungry ghost festival, and my last month before moving departments at work. Meaning lots of extra holidays and excuses to go for big dinners and high tea buffets. Which is why August is also the month in which I realised I've officially gotten a bit fat, which isn't too bad since it's also the month I started to seriously step up my marathon training. On that note, anyone with google earth should be able to click here to download the last run I did in google earth; a fairly slow, and incredibly sweaty, 23km through the rainforest.

What the hell happened in Europe in August? Seems in England some people forgot that stealing trainers and mobile phones is not a political statement, and every other country is going bankrupt.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Madras a hatter

It's been a few weeks since I last posted anything, which is partially due to laziness, and partly due to a last-minute trip to India as I continued my ex-colony tour. I think it's taken me these few weeks just to digest all the food that I ate while I was there. A little tip for anyone travelling to India, or anywhere notorious for causing digestive discomfort to tourists, by eating constantly all week, I must have overpowered any bad food by sheer volume of other food. Just remember the chemistry rhyme: the solution to pollution is dilution! An unfortunate side-effect of this strategy though is I seemed to gain a few kilos in just one week; and I'm sure most of that was ghee and sugar. It's easy to see why India has such a world renowned hospital system since diabetes and atherosclerosis are a national guarantee.

As soon as I arrived in India it was like being in a different world. Even in Singapore you see different faces, hear different languages and feel different cultures all having an influence but India is very very very Indian. For someone travelling on their own that was a little disorientating but it was a lot of fun. With Mahesh, his brother, and their friends showing me around all week I think I got to see a lot more of Indian culture than a tourist could usually get to see in such a short trip. Even after just arriving I was thrown into the deep end. Airports are usually pretty cosmopolitan places but waiting outside Chennai airport I was really the only white face; no surprise that an impressively persistant Hilton hotel greeter came up to ask me about 5 times whether I was the 'Mr English Name' on his name board. After a pickup straight out of a sitcom (Mahesh emailed a photo of the guy who would be picking me up, but he couldn't come so I just knew the guy would be wearing a green t-shirt) and seeing the physics-defying phenomenon that is Indian Traffic we went straight to Mahesh's engagement party. This really set the tone for the entire week; a whirlwind of meeting lots of friendly people, lots of interesting culture, smells and colours, and lots and lots of food.

From what I saw I couldn't make my mind up as to whether Chennai, and India as a whole, is trying to build itself up or tear itself apart. There is so much growth but still a lot of poverty so that old buildings never seem to get repaired since it's easier to build a new one. This results in quite odd juxtapositions; luxury mansions beside mud and sticks shelters, IT companies beside a stall selling paan, Audi 4x4s beside cows.

It was nice to see the older history preserved, notwithstanding a few hundred years of British influence, the traditions in India, and especially in the South, stretch back a long long time.
There is really a sense that there is a classical civilisation still alive as the ancient temples, statues and rituals are still revered in modern Indian society.

It was nice to catch up with Mahesh, and reassuring to see how fat he'd also gotten after a few weeks in India, and I wish him luck with his marriage.

Photos: Mahesh and Sneha at their engagement, Chennai rooftop view from Mahesh's Aunts' flat, colonial-era architechture at Madras university, Palava architechture at shore temple at Mahabalipuram.

Bonus photo - 4 men and a crab

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Simple pleasures

This week has been a week where I feel like I've gotten back in touch with the simpler pleasures in life.

Firstly, I've been very much enjoying fruit. Even the dreaded durian.

Secondly, having just switched from night shifts to day shifts I've been sleeping with the shutters open and the air conditioning off; enjoying the novelty of waking up with the sun in the morning and feeling refreshed, being able to eat breakfast at breakfast time, and dinner at dinner time.

And thirdly, having mused a little recently about what things might have been like in Singapore during the great days of the British empire, I had a bit of a taste of it when going for high tea at the Ritz Carlton. I've been to a few similar high tea buffets here now (more 'English high tea' in 3 months here than in 25 years in England) but the Ritz is possibly the most classy. Being waited on in quietly luxurious surroundings, enjoying a mix of the familiar and exotic, and with a beautiful lady at my side and live lounge music in the background is a nice break from the hectic world outside and won't have changed much in style and content since the days of the Raj. Although I doubt if they had coffee-bean shaped ice cubes made out of frozen coffee then.

It's perhaps a sign of my 'Singaporeanisation' that all these things seem to centre around food.

I've also reacquainted myself with the simple pleasure and feeling of achievement after completing a long run. Which is good since I'll need to start some serious training now I have officially entered the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon! 150 days until the 4th of December. I better begin in earnest...right after the next part of my Empire tour to Chennai next week.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hamsterman at the bird park

After getting home from a gruelling day at the hamster factory and washing the ovary cells off my legs, I thought it was time to reflect on the potential for comic-book-style disasters in my line of work. Perhaps I should be on the lookout for any dense hair growth on my legs, sharpening of my teeth, or anything else to suggest I might be turning into 'Hamsterman'. I know doing night shifts has already left me with a food storage and hibernation instinct. And my beard has been particularly bushy lately.
A trip to the bird park showed that I've already become inexplicably attractive to other animals. Although I think hamsters probably aren't the normal prey of Lorikeets (although that green one climbing up my back looks tempted to try).

Luckily I'm finished night shifts now so can return to the land of the living. Although 2 months prowling around in the witching hours have obviously left their mark. The indisputable video evidence below demonstrates that I now have the wizard powers to match my wizard beard (although my ability to rotate videos is lacking). Perhaps I could start work on my own film franchise since Harry Potter is now over and they have surely exhausted all possible comic-book adaptations. Look out for Kung Fu Hamster, summer 2012 blockbuster.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Midnight cheese feast

Several people have generously asked me if there's anything I can't get in Singapore that they could try to send to me. Strangely the answer is no. It slightly detracts from the image of South East Asia as a mysterious tropical paradise, but they have Marks and Spencers selling hobnobs and mint humbugs.

One thing that is difficult to get though (read 'expensive') is good cheese. I guess with the country being so small, I wouldn't be surprised if the domestic cow is extinct in Singapore so, like most of the rest of their food (and water) Singaporeans import all their dairy from at least as far as Australia. Luckily Lyn had conveniently planned a trip to France a few weeks ago. And luckily I didn't go with her. Whenever I travel through an airport my bags always get scanned or searched. I must give off the vibe of a heroin/people/chewing gum smuggler. But Lyn's bag made it through with almost a kilo of extremely ripe and perspiring blue cheese.

I've been doing my best to get through it all. It's a big job though. And Lyn's Mum keeps me well fed; so days go by where I don't even think about going near the fridge. Through mid-night insomniac snacks I'm starting to make some progress. I even managed to find some oatcakes to help but I've got a long way to go; and the cheese is only getting stronger.

Random bonus photos:

My hand almost healed a few days after a 'disagreement' with Mac, Lyn's Shihtzu. My faith in the Napolean complex reaffirmed.

Bryan Robson scaring the crap out of me from an advert on the bus.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen

I think I may have just struck upon a survival strategy for coping with the heat here. Have a light siesta from noon until around 10pm.
It's kind of funny that since I started night shifts last week, I think I've slept more than I ever have in my entire life. For example, my schedule since Tuesday night has been:

At 11pm, me and Lyn's brother, Kian, left Lyn and her friend Judy at the airport for them to pursue an arguably more extreme strategy of escaping the heat of flying to Paris for 2 weeks (although it seems to be unseasonably warm there right now). I'm sure they'll be having a great time, although I fear for Judy's mental health since Lyn never gets tired of winding her up and stressing her out.

I then had what might be considered a long sleep from 2am until 1pm. Not satisfied with 13 hours, after breakfast I slept again until 5pm. Worked from 8-8. Got back from work around 9am on Thursday and slept until 5:30pm. Worked 8-8 again then went for Indian breakfast with people from work. All of us looking in a terrible state and falling asleep on the train on the way home. Got back around 11, and after walking the stupid dog (look at his face and tell me he doesn't look stupid), slept for a good 10 hours until Kian woke me up (probably to see if I was still alive).

The only downside to this is now I have 3 days off before my next shift and I seem to be back on UK time. I guess I'll just have to be one of those crazy people wandering around the supermarkets at 3am with a papaya in one hand, a toaster in the other, and a confused, vacant expression on my face.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I was warned by a lot of people before I moved here to watch out for the 'Asian work ethic'. I don't know how much stock to put in this, whether it's just a slightly xenophobic post-colonial inferiority complex, or whether everyone East of the Urals really does work like superhuman bee/robot hybrids. I'm a bit of an egalitarian so I assume every nationality has the right to be as lazy, rude, arrogant, greedy, stupid...etc as the next, so I'm not making judgement on the beebot question just yet. Like when people ask Michael Stipe if he is gay, he just says he is 'an equal-opportunities lech', I'm an equal-opportunities slob.

I suppose the question is whether there is space for laziness. I think it's fair to say that compared to the UK, in Asia, competitiveness is very much encouraged (something even 'communist' China is looking to rely on to sustain its economic growth). In Singapore this question takes on a bit more of a literal meaning; there really isn't space for inefficiency. Kids are pushed hard to do well in school. Graduates are pushed to work long hours. And, as in the West, consumers are pushed to spend, spend, spend. I guess this creates a vicious cycle that is inherent in any capitalist economy, but I've noticed it slightly more here than anywhere else. Although maybe that just comes with big-city living. The equation is: working long hours leaves less free time, this naturally increases the relative value of any remaining free time and, balanced with having more money from working long hours, means more to spend in less time. A smart strategy based on this would be to work yourself to near death, save the money, retire at 40, move to somewhere cheap, nurse yourself back from near death and enjoy yourself until you near death again. But what actually happens is people naturally want to make the most of their free time, and justify the grind they put themselves through, and so one of the great ironies of capitalism appears: you spend more to get less, and convince yourself it's worth it, because if it wasn't...

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying I've been spending a lot since I got here, as can be seen from the new computer with massive HD monitor. Now, so much processing power, and no time to use it. Yay for capitalism; where you ask for a simple bank account and get sent a letter every day for 2 weeks from citibank including a chequebook, a debit card, a credit card you don't need, another credit card you didn't even ask for, and another chequebook (for the credit account you didn't want).

Nerd notes: PC is micro-ATX form factor (about the same footprint as a normal tower but half the height, superfluous credit cards shown for scale), intel core i5 2500, 4gb ram, nvidea geforce GTX 560 ti, 24" HD monitor (hacked kindle with custom wallpaper shown for scale)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

25% fat

I half-jokingly said I should keep a tally of my weight after I move here since the food is so good. After my medical check up this week I think it's probably actually a good idea. In my final year of uni I was 58kg and am now 68kg; and at 25% body fat it's difficult to convince myself it's all just 'resting muscle'.
I've been reading Sherlock Holmes on my Kindle though, and so instinctively making incisive deductions about everything (whether true or not) and my understanding is that the bioelectrical impedance test basically measures your conductivity, linked to your water content, so inferring your fat content (fat is low in water); meaning if I was required to fast for 12 hours before the check-up, this may not really help my water content. I might bring this up with them when I go back to get my results but get the feeling they might just see it as fat-man's denial.
Nevermind. I guess all I can do is console myself by playing guitar to my new biggest fan (above), tucking into some delicious, hilariously named, snacks, and maybe going to enjoy the views at the gym (below, view from gym at Suntec City of Singapore flyer and Marina Bay Sands resort).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

to make me feel at home

As well as the regular rain, there have been a few things I keep noticing around the place that might fool me into thinking I'm still in England. Particularly this week when I've been spending a lot of time in and around the 'colonial quarter' and near the Fullerton Hotel (above). The Fullerton is a telling relic of the colonial legacy in that, although the British may have had a hand in shaping Singapore even the most British of places, the post office no less, has become something quite different. The same could be said of the 'Ye Olde Fish and Chip' stalls in the shopping malls. A cherished British institution, but perhaps unrecognisable here with calamari on the menu, and no mushy peas to be had.
While the media here is just as obsessed with the English premier league, and the bloody royal wedding, I could be forgiven thinking that I've not gone anywhere at all; especially when I find a place that makes mushy peas curry just like Mahesh's!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring cleaning

The start of April (around 15 days from the spring equinox) in traditional Chinese culture is the Qingming festival. This is a time for remembering ancestors and visiting their resting place to make sure it's clean and tidy. Lyn and her family were nice enough to let me tag along when they went to visit Lyn's ancestors last weekend. I'm afraid some of the Taoist symbolism may have been lost on me (e.g. burning paper replicas of cars and iPads) but as a family and community activity it was quite touching and nice to be a part of.

I think it's fair to say that Singaporean culture puts a lot of focus on food and it's perhaps unsurprising that this entends into the afterlife as well. Food and drink are offered to the spirits and while they are eating, this gives plenty of time to clean the urns (cremation is preferred since Singapore's housing shortage also extends beyond the barrier). Depending on how hungry the spirits are, there may also be time to fold gold-coloured paper into nugget shapes for burning later, and, as at family gatherings the world over, to rehash old arguments and berate the youth for their generation's shortcomings.

There could be a temptation in modern society to think such practices are no longer relevant, but to me it just highlighted the capacity for anthropomorphising of issues beyond our understanding, which happens as much now as ever before; and more than ever we need to ensure that we stay grounded and don't lose touch with where we came from and where we will ultimately go. Whether the dead need paper 'Rulex' watches, trillions of dollars of Bank Of Hell currency and the latest Apple products I'm not so convinced, but it at least provides Singaporeans with one day per year where they can legally make a mess and burn stuff. It seems that the spiritual concepts that prevail in a society generally reflect the aspirations and values of that society so on one hand its nice to acknowledge that we are where we are now, and have the comfortable lives we do, because of those who have come before us, but on the other hand, money isn't everything and inflation at the Bank Of Hell must be a killer.

Top: Bright hill Buddhist temple in Bishan, next door to the columbarium, just before a big thunderstorm hit.
Left: Monks like aubergines

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I will accept cheques and postal orders as thanks for bringing the weather here with me. I joked when I got here that it was glorious sunshine and hadn't rained for a week, but that the weather wouldn't take long to catch up with me. Every day since has had a thunderstorm. If I wasn't currently reading Paranormality by Richard Wiseman (on my new Kindle, thanks R305), I might be tempted to think I have some kind of X-men-style psychic weather-control power; or at least possess prescient sarcasm. Can't complain too much though since it keeps the temperature down and stops me getting an even worse t-shirt sun tan; which would actually make the back of my neck look like the Singapore flag. And I gather the weather has picked up considerably in England since I left...I'm sure the same thing happened the last time I left the country as well...maybe I should get Richard Wiseman's email address...

As an 8-days-in update, I can say things seem to be going well. I've met most of the people I'll be working with and they all seem like good craic. Managed to not miss the bus to work again, but will soon get a reputation as the weird British guy at the bus stop who asks where every bus is going.
I should take a clipboard, stupid questions always seem less threatening with a clipboard. I'll cease being one of those illegal immigrants you read about in The Express when I collect my Employment Pass on Monday. Tried out our corporate gym membership today in a gym overlooking the Singapore river which is nice. And a bite from a mysterious unidentified fly which had caused my right foot to swell quite alarmingly (instant cankles) seems to have disappeared. That bite, many previous bites, and the fact that Lyn's dog has taken to licking my feet at every opportunity, suggests my feet must have some particular allure that makes them irresistible to the mouths of animals. I can add that to my list of superpowers.

Singapore's riverside architecture and a pigeon

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

typical, you wait ages for a bus.....

...then several come at once...and you don't get on any of them.

Efficient, and business-savvy as always, several years ago the Singapore government dredged up a vast plain of reclaimed land on their westernmost point and sold plots to pretty much every big pharmaceutical company you can think of. Not bad for a landfill. Image from As a further masterclass in getting something from nothing, they have also packed Tuas South with refuse incinerators who's ash waste is taken by barge to be carefully poured out on Pulau Semakau; so generating electricity from the incineration and gradually increasing the size of Pulau Semakau, now a popular tourist, and wildlife spotting, destination. On a more personal note, as a result of this process, the view from my new workplace looks just like my last workplace (albeit with less smog and more palm trees than Middlesbrough) thus helping ease my transition.

Wonderful though this whole enterprise is, it means that the Roche Singapore Technical Operations site is a little bit out of the way to say the least. Subsequently, after waiting until 8am for a bus that I must have watched arrive and leave sometime around 7:15, along with a score of other buses, my Monday commute meant riding the MRT to the end of the line and then a further 20 minute taxi. I'm no expert on etiquette but I would think being 90 minutes late on your first day of work is probably not the best way to make a good impression.

I could blame myself for missing the bus, I wanted to go to Roche, but perhaps I should have known that, as I learned today, the Roche bus is actually labelled for Mayflower Primary School. How silly of me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

so....this is what a blog looks like

I'd like to think anyone who know's me might think i'm not to type of person who reads blogs (true) or would write a blog (we'll see). The idea of people thinking the minutiae of their wacky lives being worth publishing and necessary to the public consciousness seems arrogant at best. HOWEVER, I appreciate the irony of a trivial blog post wining about trivial blog posts, but without self perpetuating contradictions, where would we be? And at least I'm not tweeting about it.

Anyway... I just recently made a slight relocation from North-East England to South-East Asia and thought it might be cathartic to have somewhere to vent my culture shock, and to have something for family and friends to see how I'm getting on without having to wade into the mire of facebook. All I can promise is that updates will be infrequent, and there's a small chance they might contain sarcasm.

Marina Bay after mocktails and cocktails at Harry's bar.