Archive | October, 2017

Expat Questions

30 Oct

Stealing yet another idea from my fellow blogger extraordinaire, Bev, I thought it might be interesting to answer the questions of this Expat Quiz. People always seem to be interested in the motivation of expats, so perhaps this will answer a few questions that you might be wondering about.

Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live? I was born in Macclesfield, England, which is also the birthplace of such great individuals as Ian Curtis, lead singer of the Joy Division, Ben Ainslie, Olympic sailor, and Peter Crouch, the England football. I grew up in Rainow, a small village about three miles from Macclesfield. When I was a kid, it had a school, church, post office and three pubs. Not much has changed there to this day, apart from the post office was closed down and there is only one pub now, which is barely surviving. I now live in Buchs, a village about 15km from Zürich.

What made you leave your home country? Five years ago, I was working for a Swiss company in the UK. I had the opportunity to move to Head Office in Switzerland. It felt like too good to turn down. At the time, I was single and life was just ticking along.

What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from? When I meet new people from England, I know that they are thinking that I must have more money than I know what to do with, which is simply not true. People also normally ask if I can ski, go hiking in the Alps etc. People from other countries just say “Wow” and look at me with a cross between admiration and curiosity. It is always funny to explain to people I meet on holiday because they immediately know that I am English from my accents but before they asking me what the weather is like there at the moment, I have to butt in with that I actually live in Switzerland and then I feel like I am trying to show off a bit.

What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country? I am not sure there was an easy part. Every thing was completely new and different. It was completely overwhelming and I didn’t know if I would be able to survive to begin with. The best advice came from a friend, who I knew through hockey, who had also lived abroad for a while. He said it you can make it through a full calendar year and go once through the seasons, you can stay there for as long as you like. I really did want to come back after six months because I was finding it difficult to settle. I often thought of this advice to get me through the first year. If I did the first year and still didn’t like it, I would have moved back, but by then I had started to adjust and I knew I could stay for longer with no problem. Going back to the easy part, maybe there is an easy part. Everyone in Switzerland can speak English very well and they like to speak English (when they want to!) so to begin with it was a bit easier. It has never been my intention not to learn the language fluently and slowly that it happening.

What images, words or sounds have summed up your expat experience so far? I think probably this image. I have never been a city person but for me Zürich is the perfect city; not too big, easily accessible to the surrounding countryside and lovely views.

Zurich

Your favourite food and drink items in your new country? Chocolate and cheese: What is there not to love? I am obsessed with Fondue and Raclette, both of which I had no tried before I moved here. I also have a fair few friends and family members hooked on these dishes as well. I also love Rivella. People told me that unless you grew up in Switzerland it is impossible to like the taste of Rivella. It is a fizzy drink, made from a by-product of milk. In fairness, it doesn’t sound nice but it is. I could drink it by the bucket load.

What’s the one thing you said yes to in your new city that you wouldn’t say yes to back home? This has to be swimming in the lake. In the summer it is nice to cool off in the lake on a hot day. The water is perfectly clear, clean and refreshing. In England this would be a definite no. The water would be far too cold and probably polluted with God knows what.

Are there any cultural norms and phrases in your new countrx that you can’t stand? I still haven’t go my head around greeting someone. I never know if I should shake a hand, hug or kiss. It’s so confusing and completely embarrassing if someone goes in for a hug and you misread that as a kiss. Awkward! Also why are hot drinks served in a glass here. It means that the glass is far too hot to pick up without giving yourself third degree burns. So you have to let it cool down and then you end up with a lukewarm drink and not a hot one. The clue is in the name. It’s a Hot Chocolate and not a Lukewarm Chocolate.

What do you enjoy doing the most in your new country? Although I don’t do it as much as I should, I do enjoy hiking. This isn’t something that I would do at home. There are so many hiking routes and mountain here that you are spoilt for choice. Next year I will definitely try to get more hikes done.

Do you think you will ever move home again? Never say never (Oops I just said it twice) but I think it is unlikely. I am settled here now and I enjoy my life here as well. To go back home, I would need to take a large pay cut and pay more taxes. Of course, there are more important things than money but that is a big factor in me being happy to stay here. Then there is the question of Brexit. Until that issue is cleared up, I am not sure that I would move back. There is too much instability at the moment,

 

 

Singapore: the last 48 hours

25 Oct

On Monday morning, I shouldn’t have bothered to set my alarm. A huge thunderstorm woke me up at 7am. I am convinced that the building physically shook, or maybe that was just tiredness.

I had planned to go to Sentosa Island for the day. It’s home to 3 beautiful beaches and resorts like Madam Tussaud’s. Despite the weather not being great, I decided to go anyway. By the time I left the hotel, the weather was looking better and it had finally stopped raining.

Sentosa is easy to reach. I took the MRT and then the Sentosa Express. The train was packed with people going to the resorts. If I wasn’t on my own I definitely would have gone to at least one of them. But it’s not much fun queuing on your own. Furthermore I know from experience that if the weather is bad the outside rides are closed down and with the forecast being mixed, it could have been a waste of money. (Incidentally this happened to me in Florida last year and in Hong Kong when a typhoon warning 4 was given part way through the day).

I found out by chance that Sentosa Island is the Southernmost point of intercontinental Asia. So, I had to visit the sign to say I had been there!

The weather was holding out but it still wasn’t great; definitely not lying on a beach weather. So I had a wander round and then decided to go on the Skyline Luge, which is basically a cross between a go kart and a toboggan. Undoubtedly this would have been more fun with other people to race against but it was still fun to do it.

You go up on a ski lift type thing and then collect the cart at the top. You don’t end up coming down all that fast and it is easy to brake. The marketing strap line was “Once is never enough”. The reason for this being is because it takes you longer to get up to the start than it does for you to ride back down if you go at any pace at all.

For lunch I headed to Chinatown for the illusive Michelin starred Hawker Stall which I had tried to find the previous day. I found it this time. Incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious!

To carry on with the theme of enjoying internationally renowned culinary experiences, I went in search of the original Singapore Sling that was invented at Raffles Hotel over 100 years ago.

This was a tough challenge as the Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar were both shut for renovations and these are the only places where the drink is served. I had found out that the service of the drink had been moved to the Bar and Billiards Room (part of the Raffles Hotel) while work was continuing.

The surroundings were impressive and the place was full of people drinking the famous pink cocktail. This is by far the most expensive drink I have ever had. One glass costs 36.50 Singapore dollars (or 27 SFr. or 20 GBP). I licked that glass clean as if my life depended on it and enjoyed every last drop!

I headed back to the hotel for a swim to cool off and to have a relax before heading out again. I also had a pedicure which cost more than I expected due to a “misunderstanding” but as I very really indulge in that sort of thing, I decided not to be too annoyed and take it as a sign that I needed a treat.

In the evening I went to Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are full of many different species of plants but the crowning glory is the huge tree-like structures that support and sustain yet more plant varieties. At night these structures are lit up and twice nightly you can see a fantastic light and music display, as the trees change colour to the music. The performance I saw was called Moon Symphonies. All of the songs had a Moon theme: Moon River, Fly Me to The Moon and Blue Moon. You can’t beat a bit of Sinatra, Mercer and Bublé on a Monday night with a choreographed light display.

The following day, after going to the gym, doing some shopping, getting myself ready to check out and having a nice healthy lunch, I headed back to the Gardens by the Bay to see them in the day. You could spend hours walking around the gardens. They are so well maintained and well thought out. I paid to see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. I thought it was a bit pricey (locals get a reduced rate) but, on balance, it was worth it.

The Flower Dome had species from all over the world and there was a special exhibition of pumpkins because of autumn. This was one of the display items. It was unbelievable!

The Cloud Forest was a replica of a Cloud Forest, a specific type of rainforest which approximately 1.1% is destroyed every year. As you enter the doors, you are faced with a huge, cascading waterfall and a forest of flowers. You can go to the top of the waterfall and then do the Tree Top Walk back to the bottom.

I also wanted to do the Skywalk which is a walkway which links some of the trees that I saw the night before. You get more of a bird’s eye view of the park and the surrounding city. Unfortunately because of the unpredictability of the weather, it was closed for safety reasons. It is completely exposed and they probably don’t have the public liability insurance in case anything did go wrong.

I headed to the Arab Quarter, which I had visited on the Bike Tour. A really quirky cafe called Juice Clinic had caught my eye because of the amazing artwork outside. It had been closed on Sunday but I wanted to visit it before I left. I was so glad I did. It had jazz music playing, freshly squeezed juices and… drum roll please… Rainbow Cheesecake! After all the walking, I feel like I deserved it.

The cafe was on a crossroads and it was a great place to people watch. I could have sat there all day. Unfortunately, it was time to collect my bag, catch the bus and head to the airport.

96 hours in Singapore already over. After a dodgy start, I have enjoy myself thoroughly. Singapore is definitely not how I expected it to be and I hope to come back again to experience more of what it has to offer. I need to get saving for another Singapore Sling!

Singapore: the first 48 hours

22 Oct

My trip to Singapore crept up on me. I booked the flight in February when Swiss had a sale on and a couldn’t resist a bargain. I admit I hadn’t done as much research for this trip and I was feeling a bit nervous about it.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts. For a couple of weeks, I have been suffering from an upset stomach off and on and my body decided it would be funny to see how Lyndsay would deal with this on a 12 hour flight to Asia.

Luckily, if I go anywhere further than the local supermarket, I always take my passport, toothbrush and Imodium. This is the first time I have had to use the latter.

When we landed and I managed to get to the hotel via public transport, I was looking forward to relaxing and lying near to a toilet that I didn’t have to share with 200 other people. That didn’t go to plan.

The hotel declined my credit card three times. The receptionist was really rude and demanded payment immediately and said it must be my credit limit and that’s why my card provider have declined it blah blah blah. I asked for them to get my credit card company on the phone so I could talk to them. The nice man at the credit card company assured me that they had done nothing of the sort. The issue was something from the hotel‘s side. Nasty hotel receptionist denied this and finally the payment went through (when he used another machine).

After that I popped to the supermarket for water and something plain to eat and got lost in the shopping complex! These things are massive. I had been walking around for ages and everything just looked the same. I had to admit defeat and asked the customer information desk how to get back. That was enough for one day. I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

No such luck. I had booked on a bike tour of the city. These are normally a great way to orientate yourself in a city and to ask a local about what life is like. Again I struggled to find the meeting point and when I finally got there, I was the only one who had turned up. I offered to come back on Sunday because I thoughtcrime would be more fun to be with others and not just alone with the group leader.

Having no idea what to do, I picked up a MRT map (subway) and decided to head for the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are incredible. Although they are primarily a place for difference plants to be showcased, they are a huge outdoor space which is utilised by locals for yoga and meditation. An interesting mix!

The Gardens are home to the National Orchid Gardens, which are well worth the 5 dollar entrance fee. It was really tranquil and lovely to see do many varieties of my favourite flowers.

And then the Heavens opened. Being from the North West of England, I know about rain more than most. Singapore rain is something else. Luckily I did have an umbrella with me but it didn’t help too much. I was soaked to the skin. I headed back to the hotel to use the gym while the storm passed.

Early afternoon the weather was much better and I headed out to explore. A friend had recommended a place to eat in Little India, so I headed there.

The eating experience was more of a challenge if I’m honest. The restaurant has a „Wall of Fame“. If you eat a curry of a certain spice strength without joghurt based accompaniments or drinks, they give you a clothes peg to write you name on so hang on the wall. My friend had tried this on his trip to Singapore but failed miserably. I managed to complete the challenge and get my very own peg. I think I could have possibly eaten a few levels hotter, but no one likes a show off, do they? Based on my problems 24 hours before, I feel like my achievement is in the epic category. I had a few celebratory drinks which meant the bill was pretty hefty. Oh well, I’m on holiday.

After that I wandered around Chinatown for a bit and then went to Marina Bay Sands and walked back to the hotel. The views are simply stunning and more spectacular than photos can ever convey.

The next day it was Bike Tour take 2! This time the tour was on. We biked for about 20 km over 4 hours with a stop for coffee and refreshments. The tour was interesting. We went through the Financial district and Chinatown. In Chinatown we went to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I hadn’t visited this the previous evening. The temple is almost completely made out of gold. The security is tight because of this. On the top floor is a relic which is meant to be the tooth of Buddha. All I can say if that was Buddha‘s tooth, his dentist bills must have cost a small fortune. It was huge. It was interesting to see. It’s can be hard to understand relics from the point of view of a non-believer but it obviously holds a deep meaning for followers of this faith.

Later we went by Marina Bay Sands, but we did a different route to the one I had done. Then we went to the hipster district which is an interesting mix of Middle Eastern cultures and has a huge mosque in the middle of it. There are so many faiths in Singapore and there seems to be very little racial tension or discrimination. I wonder what their secret is?

We stopped for coffee and were treated to some staple breakfast foods, which were yummy. We needed the energy for the next part. We actually road down the Singapore Formula 1 track! It was such a surprise. I think I was by far the most excited by this. It takes 4 months to put up the infrastructure and stands and 3 months to take it down. Incredible stuff.

After the tour, I had a swim in the hotel pool to cool down and I decided to go back to Chinatown. The leader of the bike tour had recommend a place to eat which was a hawker stall but had been awarded a Michelin star. Cheap Michelin started food? I was in! Only I wasn’t. I found the place and it was closed. I will have to go back another time. I had dumplings from another stall instead which were cheap and delicious. I then tried a Singapore Craft Beer called Simply Blonde. It cost about half the price of Buddha’s 6 monthly check-up.

I headed out to the Zoo for the Night Safari: the world first nocturnal animal park. It’s a good idea because not so many animals are active during the day when most zoos are open. It took a long time to get there, about 1 and a half hours. Although I had booked a ticket for 9.15pm admission, I managed to get in an hour earlier. I was glad of this because I was worried about missing public transport home.

The safari itself was good. We saw all of the animals apart from the wolves who were hiding somewhere. What was annoying was people who were talking the whole way through (not the thing to do on safari) and people using flashes on their phones to take pictures. I didn’t managed to get any photos because we were on a moving tram. As I wasn’t using the flash, I was trying to take a picture with the aperture open to let in more light. However, the camera needs to be completely still or the image is blurred. This was a shame but I did managed to see some cool animals up front! I managed to get the public bus home and it only cost me 1 dollar 27!

What a week!

20 Oct

What a week it has been! I had no German lessons this week because of half term, so I was looking forward to a bit of relaxing. Not a chance! I don’t mind a hectic week when you know it’s going to be a hectic week but when it creeps up on you to surprise you, it’s not good at all.

On Monday I really didn’t feel like doing much apart from going to bed early. I didn’t even achieve that after I had finished faffing around and getting a few small jobs that I have been trying to do for a while out of the way.

On Tuesday I seemed to be quite busy at work and I headed to the gym at lunchtime. In the evening I met up with some friends who I haven’t seen in a while. It was in actual fact a year or so but I was determined to get everyone together at least once in 2017. I almost made it; one of the group was sick.

We went to a really good burger place, where the burgers are so large that I didn’t even finish mine. We have already got a date sorted for a meeting in early December. I actually think this is cheating a bit. The next organiser doesn’t have to go through the pain of sending dates after dates and agonising about what time and where we meet. I’m saying I have more brownie points for my efforts.

Wednesday was the last outdoor hockey practice before we start playing the indoor season. Boo! I’m not a huge fan of indoor hockey, mainly because the ball never really goes out and you have to run and run until your lungs burn and your face looks like a beef tomato, which for me is about 2.5 minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling to well and I decided after the warm-up that it might be best to leave early and get an early night.

Thursday I was busy getting organised and tidying the house before leaving for a long weekend away in Singapore!

I only booked this trip in February because it was 460 Francs return in a Swiss International airlines sale. I have paid more to go home for Christmas before so forgive my impulse buying. Because the week was so hectic I have no idea if I have packed the right clothes etc etc. But who cares? I’m sure it’s a case of “I think I left the oven one” and everything will be ok. If not, I am sure I will manage.

So, by the time you read this, I will be there. Probably sweating, moaning about humidity and dying of thirst but hey that’s the beauty of Asia. Let the adventure begin!

Sleep time

18 Oct

This week BBC published an article about a school in Hampton, who have given alarm clocks to students, so that they don’t have to use the alarm clock on their phones. The school argues that this is a distraction to pupils while they are trying to get to sleep and during the night. I can’t work out if the article has a bit of a unimpressed tone; a “why do they have to interfere with everything?” sort of tone.

I would personally love it, if someone took my phone off me at night. It is completely distracting and I have noticed over the past few months that I am sleeping less and less. Not because I am going to bed later and later, but because I go to bed and use my phone.

First I check Twitter, then Facebook, then Twitter again, because in the 5 minutes that I have been checking Facebook, I have probably missed something of vital importance and my life will never be the same if I don’t catch up. The cycle continues with other apps until I look at the clock and realise it is already 11pm.

Of course, I do have an alarm clock. I bought it a few months ago because I had already noticed that my sleep pattern was gradually getting worse and worse. The thing is that the beeping noise is irritating first thing in the morning (which, incidentally, I know is the point) but I can set my iPhone so that I am woken up by a Take That song.

What would you rather wake you up a noise that completely grates on you or Gary Barlow’s voice? Ok, I know some of you are thinking there is no difference, but there definitely is. A massive difference, in fact. Don’t get me started on how amazing Take That sing live!

The question got be thinking about how much we think that technology has improved our lives, but no matter how much we think our lives have improved, there is always a negative lurching in the background.

As a child, I would often listen to music on my Walkman in bed before sleeping. After four songs, the battery was flat, so it had no impact on sleep. Now I can listen to songs for as long as I can stay awake, by having the phone on charge the whole time.

Maybe my New Year’s Resolution for next year should be to ban the phone from the bedroom and focus on sleep quality. If I do, can someone let’s me know what’s been happening on Twitter while I’ve been sleeping?

You can read the full article that I read here.

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Hockey, Hiking and Homework

16 Oct

This weekend my life seemed to be dominated by the letter H.

On Friday evening, I went to hockey training for the Swiss senior hockey national team for the first time. As I have been living here for more than 5 years, I am now eligible to play for the national team.

The training itself was great. I know most of the players anyway – which isn’t hard bearing in mind how few field hockey players there are in Switzerland. The goal was to enter a tournament next years but there is some debate about if we will have enough players to enter. I hope we do. I quite fancy playing hockey in Spain for 10 days.

On Saturday, still tired from hockey the night before, I went hiking with a work colleague. Uetliberg is Zurich’s very own mountain. It’s about 800m, which in Switzerland is more like a bump in the road than a mountain. We walked up a very steep path, which starts near our office to the top.

When we started walking, it was so cloudy and misty that I was convinced that we wouldn’t be able to see anything from the top and our efforts to climb the mountain would not be rewarded.

I shouldn’t have worried. This was the view from the top:

Just beautiful and in the middle of October as well! The hike took us about 2.5 hours and the lunch of pulled pork and crusty bread that my friend had prepared for us at her house was the perfect way to refuel.

In the evening, I spent some time doing some ‘homework’. I spent a few hours working on some writing projects that I have been working on and made some good progress.

I really should have done some German homework but we have half term this week so I won’t be going to class this week on Tuesday and Thursday evening. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I will miss the lessons the following week because I will be in Singapore and then at the Basel indoor tennis quarter finals. Both were booked well in advance of me enrolling for my classes.

I actually think it will be good to have a bit of an extended break from lessons. I hope it means that when I will return I will have a new sense of purpose and renewed motivation.

It was already Sunday and time for a hockey match against Basel. It was an early start to get to the pitch for 9.30am. Normally games are after lunchtime. I woke up at the same time that I wake up for work. So much for a lie in.

The station was pretty spooky. I was the only one there and the fog made it feel like Victorian London. I was half expecting Jack the Ripper to make an appearance.

The day turned out to be really warm, far to warm to play hockey. I much prefer playing sport in the rain, rather than 20 plus degrees.

I normally write the match report for the team; it’s one of the reasons that I restarted my blog about a year ago. One of the girl, after reading the report, said that I should be a writer or a journalist. The dream from my childhood might be inching closer…

40 Before 40: Challenge #10

14 Oct

After the Cardiff Half Marathon, I was surprised when I realised I had actually completed Challenge #10 of my 40 Before 40 list (‘Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon’). It was definitely not my intention to do that!

Somehow, I managed to beat my 10 mile (16km) personal best by a whole 9 seconds. Doesn’t sound so impressive, does it? If a professional runner takes 9 seconds off their time, it is a big deal. It doesn’t really work the same with amateurs, like me, who don’t have a great time to begin with.

Because it wasn’t my intention to aim to beat my best on this occasion, I have decided to say that this challenge is complete, because I have done it, but the tick is only marked in pencil. I know that I can do a lot better than this. However, if after 4.5 years when we are getting to the end of the challenge and I haven’t managed to do this in a more convincing manner, I will change the pencil mark to indelible ink.

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Since the Half Marathon, life has been a bit hectic. I haven’t been on any longer runs since then. I have decided to try and improve my times of some shorter running distances and then over time to increase the distance, while still trying to keep the faster pace. In addition to that, I will be focusing on eating healthier and losing some weight.

I have started off modestly with the running, by starting with 3km. I will try to get my time down to around 16 to 17 minutes and, once I have achieved that, try to run for 5km at the same pace. Let’s see how that goes. It may or may not work as I plan it to, but it is worth a try. This also means that I can focus a bit on core strength exercises which I have been too lazy to do over the past year. These exercises can be a bit boring and it is easy to overlook how important they are but they definitely help to improve fitness and performance.

Having said that, because the weather is still nice, I have planned to go for an 11km run on Monday evening after work. I know that 11km seems like a very specific amount. There is good reason for that.

While I was training for the Half, I had to scout out suitable routes. One of the routes is a nice route along the side of the golf course, along some farm land and past a field where there is a stable with horses and donkeys. Just past that field there is a bench, where I would sit for a rest when I had only just started my training. According to my running app, this bench is exactly 5.5km from my door. So, there and back makes 11km.

For some reason, 11km seems like so much more than 10km. That means that on Monday evening, I might have earned myself a well-deserved piece of chocolate.