Tag Archives: expat

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!

40 Before 40: Challenge #2

9 Oct

For my second challenge of my 40 Before 40, I have decided to take on one of my passions in life – travel. My challenge is to visit 40 of the 51 countries in Europe before my 40th birthday. One of the plus points of moving to Switzerland was that it is in the centre of Europe and a lot easier to travel around. Over the past few years, I have been to a lot of new places but there are still more on the list to get through!

I was shocked when I realised that there were 51 independent countries. I have checked with several sources and they all say the same. So it must be true.

Technically, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey are transcontinental countries as they span Europe and Asia. Armenia and Cyprus are considered to be European countries, although they are geographically in West Asian territory.

Below is the list of the 51 European countries and next to the ones I have already visited I had put the date of when I visited. For some of the countries that I haven’t visited in the last 15 years or so there is just an approximate date.

So far, I have visited 25 out of the 51. I had better get packing my bags!

  1. Albania
  2. Andora
  3. Armenia
  4. Austria – August 17
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Belarus
  7. Belgium
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Bulgaria – July 2008
  10. Croatia
  11. Cyprus – sometime in the 90s
  12. Czech Republic – July 2016
  13. Denmark – July 2016
  14. Estonia – May 2015
  15. Finland – May 2015
  16. France – December 2016
  17. Georgia
  18. Germany – June 2017
  19. Greece – around 2000
  20. Hungary – March 2014
  21. Iceland
  22. Ireland – June 2003
  23. Italy – May 2015
  24. Kazakhstan
  25. Kosovo
  26. Latvia – September 2015
  27. Leichtenstein
  28. Lithuania – September 2015
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Macedonia
  31. Malta – sometime in the 90s
  32. Moldova
  33. Monaco
  34. Montenegro
  35. Netherlands – December 2015
  36. Norway – March 2017
  37. Portugal – June 2014
  38. Poland
  39. Romania
  40. Russia
  41. San Marino
  42. Serbia
  43. Slovakia – August 2017
  44. Slovenia
  45. Spain – Sep 2014
  46. Sweden – Dec 2014
  47. Switzerland – country of residence
  48. Turkey
  49. Ukraine
  50. UK – birth place. That must count as being marked off the list
  51. Vatican City – May 2015

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Five years

27 Sep

Five years ago, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket (still the only one-way ticket I have ever purchased) and one suitcase, ready to begin a new adventure in Switzerland.

It doesn’t seem like five years ago, and I never would have believed that I would still be here five years down the line and be enjoying living here. For at least the first six to nine months, I was convinced that I had made the wrong decision and I was wondering how difficult it would be to move all my things back. I spent a lot of lonely nights (and they were also dark and miserable because of the time of year) not really knowing what to do with myself.

After the first 12 months, I was more settled and learning the language definitely helped. Although at the time, it seems like I was spending a lot of time learning things like “Do you sell salt?” which aren’t so helpful in every day life. I also had a very bad habit in the beginning of never asking for anything in a shop, because I was far too embarrassed. If I needed salt and it wasn’t on the shelf where I thought it should be, I simply did without it. Luckily, I always managed to find the ice cream.

The time of being anxious that I had made the wrong decision is far behind me now. There are still things that annoy me about living in another country. Everyone thinking that you come from London when you say you are English is a particular bugbear of mine; as is the lack of fish and chips and the over abundance of paprika crisps. I still hold out hope that smokey bacon flavour crisps will be introduced here but that hope is fading steadily.

I appreciate that Switzerland is not a country that is for everyone’s taste. I know a lot of people who would struggle to keep up with the punctuality of this country and all of the rules that a well-behaved expat must abide by. For me, this part of Swiss culture has not been so hard to adapt to. I think I have had good timekeeping drummed into me from an early age. To the extent that if someone is two minutes late and doesn’t offer an apology, they are immediately struck off the Christmas card list. No second chances here.

After being here for five years, I have now successfully applied for my C permit. This means that I have the same rights of a Swiss citizen, apart from I can’t have a passport or vote. As the country seems to be running quite fine without my inputs, that’s fine by me.

A change for me will be that I no longer have to pay tax out of my wages, but I have to make a tax declaration once a year. I guess I have been here for so long that the tax authorities trust me that I won’t skip the country without paying it. It should be interesting filling in that huge form for the first time. I will definitely need a dictionary on hand when I come to complete it, as well as a calculator.

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40 Before 40: Part II

9 Sep

Here is the second part of my #40Before40 challenge. This is a short explanation of why items 21 to 40 are on my list.

21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – the idea for this is simple. Watch a complete series of 24 in 24 hours. For those of you who don’t know, Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer, a maverick working for the FBI. Each season elapses over 24 hours. So the season are 24 episode long. I will watch them back to back, as if watching them in real time. I need to get friends to help me with this or I will not stay awake.

22. Learn how to wolf whistle – my mum can do this no problem but I have never been able to no matter how hard I have tried. I think it would be fun to be able to do this spontaneously

23. Try snowboarding – I am not very good at skiing so let’s try snowboarding. I believe it is a lot harder to snowboard in the beginning, but it has to be more pleasurable than skiing.

24. Take an overnight sleeper train – I have taken an overnight bus from Latvia to Lithuania before and got about 10 minutes sleep. I have a romantic idea that it would be very comfortable and luxurious. I am sure that the reality is anything but.

25. Cook every single recipe from one cookbook – about a year ago, I watched a film called Julie and Julia which is a true story based on a woman’s quest to cook everything from the book of the famous chef, Julia Child. Julia Powell cooked 564 recipes from the book in 364 days. And this was classical French cooking. An unbelieveable achievement! I haven’t yet decided on which cookbook to cook from. I may have underestimated the challenge of this. I was looking at cookbooks in a book shop yesterday and cookbooks are really long. By long, I mean easily more than 100 receipes. If anyone has a good suggestion, please let me know.

26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs – this could be another underestimation. I thought this would take me an afternoon to complete. I watch a Youtube video of a simple folding design and my mind was blown. I thought it would be like thought paper game from the school playground where you choose a colour and then you chose a number and then your friend reads out what is underneath the flap and it’s something like “You stink”. I have no idea what they are called but you know what I mean, right? Anyway, not as easy to make as those.

27. Read 40 novels in German – this is linked to Number 1. Reading is a great way to passively learn a language and I love reading anyway, although it is not always easy in German when I have to look up words to understand the text completely.

28. Take a wine degustation course – as one get older, one should appreciate wines more. I think that is what people say. I have no idea about wines apart from the colours are different and some are sweeter than others.

29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read – I am a big reader. I realised that I don’t read as many books from female authors as I do male authors. Then I found this list of 40 books that women should read. It seemed like Fate.

30. Solve a Rubik cube – I remember my brother and I peeling off the stickers of a Rubik cube in an attempt to solve it. Of course, then it became completely impossible to solve. I will try this challenge without the wonders of the internet and Youtube. I’m going off grid!

31. Take up a new sport – I like sport. I like trying new things. I haven’t yet worked out what new sport I would like to try but I am sure that I will find the right one to have a go at.

32. Catch, cook and eat a fish – it might surprise you that I love watching the show River Monster, where the presenter goes off to all sorts of destination looking to catch a powerful fresh water fish. Of course, he puts it back afterwards. I would like to catch something that it enough for dinner. Incidentally, I won’t be doing this challenge at the same time that I am going vegan for 3 months.

33. Make an item of clothing to wear – again I am not sure what exactly but I would like to make something to wear. I have already ruled out knitting a scarf because that is a bit too easy.

34. Stop biting my nails – I mainly bite my nails when I am nervous, bored or excited. I hate the way they look but at the same time I can also go for long periods of time for them to grow. I just need to break the habit effectively. Easier said than done.

35. Read 40 non-fiction books – I mainly read crime/thriller fiction books but I have so many non-fiction books that I bought with the good intention of reading.

36. Fly long haul business class – I have never flown business class but I am always so jealous of when I get on or off a long haul flight and you see the seat in business class. I want people to be jealous of me for a change and see if it does make a difference if you sit in economy or business class. I think it could be a marketing con.

37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – strange as it sounds, I hate having my haircut. I don’t like very much about the experience at all. I really don’t like that they try to talk to you and be friends with you. As a result, I only go about twice a year. Women should go to the hairdresser every 6 weeks. After I go after 6 months, my hair is not in great condition. Once a quarter seems to me to be a good compromise for the sake of my hair.

38. Be able to touch my toes – I have never been able to do this. I have heard that it is just a question of flexibility and if you regularly stretch it should be able to do it. I remain skeptical. I will post a photo as evidence.

39. Downsize, get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating – I say and try to do this all the time but I never end up fully managing it. This means that a lot of books that I have in the basement will have to go as well as toiletries and cosmetics that I have bought and used once and clothes.

40. Start and maintain my own travel website – I had an idea for a travel website/blog a while back but I have yet to do anything about it. One of the issues is the amount of posts and articles that need to be written in order to generate interest. At the moment this remains an idea but soon I am hoping that this will become a reality.

To read the items 1 to 20, click here.

So, it’s time to stop explain and start doing! Wish me luck.

#40Before40

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Another year older

5 Sep

Yesterday I celebrated by 35th birthday. I’m not really a big birthday celebratory but I was persuaded in the evening to have Raclette and a birthday cake. A choice I could never regret.

It got me thinking about the cultural differences between UK and Switzerland on the subject of celebrating aging.

In the UK a work colleague would normally arrange a cake for your day because it’s your birthday and why should you go to the effort of baking/buying a cake and hauling it into the office? In Switzerland it is very much expected that you bring something in for everyone.

I have a bit of luck on this front because 5 people from my department had birthdays over the weekend or yesterday. I know from prior years that this normally results in far too many croissants, cakes, pastries and other sweet things. I didn’t bring anything in, not because I am tight, but because I will bake something over the weekend to bring in next week when everyone’s sugar levels have reverted back to normal.

The cake thing I can deal with but not so much the hand-shaking, kissing and congratulating that comes along with it. All of these things are ok between close friends and family but I find it a bit unsettling between work colleagues.

So many people have congratulated me. But what are they actually congratulating me for? I have achieved nothing, apart from not dying and getting a day older. And I am fairly sure that they can’t possibly be congratulating me for evading death for the 35th consecutive year.

At home people just wish you a nice day and tell you not to get too drunk (because that’s the only pastime of the British). I find both of these sentiments to be much more preferable than wondering if my work colleague will shake my hand, kiss me three times or hug me.

I do sound like I’m complaining but I’m. It really. It’s these small cultural differences than I found so interesting and, sometimes, funny. Will I ever get used to these small things? Will I always find it awkward and a touch embarrassing? Only time will tell. But I will say one thing: it’s far better to be congratulated and feeling awkward than for your birthday to be forgotten.

One month to go…

2 Sep

It’s come around faster than I thought it would but it is now only one month until I run the Cardiff Half Marathon. I felt like I had to enter a competition in order to get seriously running again. Without a goal, I don’t feel motivated to do anything.

In 2012, I had just finished my accountancy qualification and I was relatively fit from playing hockey and some light running. So I decided to run a marathon. I did it. I was crawling at the end but I did it. Since then I have struggled to get into a regular running pattern. Back then I would go to a 2 hour hockey training session and then run a 10km after, so that my training plan was on schedule.

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Lot of people say that completing a marathon is the pinnacle of anyone’s sporting life. Perhaps since then I have not seen the point of training to that extent again. And if you don’t train to that extent, I would argue, then why bother at all?

Over the past few weeks I have begun to re-find my love of running. It’s not so much of a chore any more. It’s therapeutic in a sense. It gives me a chance to be outside and in nature. I can completely switch off and I find it a good chance to think about all sorts of things. Once you get into the routine of going running for 3 times a week, it soon becomes the norm, a bit like brushing your teeth twice a day.

A lot harder is the nutrition that goes along with training. It makes no difference what so ever if you run for an hour, if you then come home and decide to eat everything in the cupboard, which, I admit, I have done on more than one occasion. There is a fitness quote that says: You can’t out-train a bad diet. In terms of health and fitness, I don’t think that anything is truer.

I have noticed that I eat a lot better on the weekends when I am at home. Because I intentionally don’t buy chocolate, crisps etc, I am less likely to eat them. I have a “buffer”. If I think that I want to have chocolate, I have to walk to the shops. By the time it takes me to put on my shoes and get ready to go out, I have asked myself what the hell I am doing and I quickly decide not to go out and buy junk food. However, if I am at work, it is too easy to eat junk. There are vending machines conveniently dotted around the building. The moral of the story is that I shouldn’t go to work!

So, justfour weeks to go. Just two more long training runs and then I start to taper, which in layman’s terms means that I start to steadily decrease my running distances in order to allow my body to recover and relax before the big race day.

I have a time in mind that I would like to get but, unfortunately, it won’t be a personal best this time. Not unless I find divine Inspiration somewhere between the start and finish line.

 

 

Sporting Misfortunes

29 Aug

Over the weekend I have had not one but two sporting misfortunes.

On Saturday I dragged myself out of bed early and decided to go for a long run in preparation for the half marathon that I am running in Cardiff at the start of October. I was completely mentally and physically prepared. What I didn’t take into account was that my bra strap would break after 2km!

I thought about turning back, going home and changing but I thought if I do that the likelihood that I will just stay at the apartment and not bothered doing the rest of the run would be about 100%. I hid in a bush and tried to rectify it in some way but it was no use. I did the British thing and kept calm and carried on.

Of course, I couldn’t run as fast as I normally would do but I kept going and did the distance that I wanted to. These “longer” runs that I do in the build up for the training are important in terms of distance, and not really in terms of time. Good job in this case!

It is entirely possible that I have a wardrobe malfunction on the day of the half marathon. Then I would only have the option of carrying on or stopping. It’s good training for an unexpected event on the day.

The second hiccup also involved clothing in a round-about way. I was in Luzern on Sunday to play a friendly hockey match. Push-back wasn’t until 5.30pm so I was already expecting to be home late.

After the game we discovered that we were locked out of the changing rooms. The door to the building automatically locks as soon as it is shut. The opposition hadn’t told us that we needed to bring the key with us or we wouldn’t be able to get back in. So we were outside and cold while our clothes were inside with the showers!

No one seemed to have a spare key, not even the President of the club had a key. After phoning round we called a locksmith and got a pizza delivered to the pitch. By now it was getting cold and I’m sure that I was really smelly as well.

Just before the locksmith arrived, it was discovered that a teacher who lived nearby had a key. So we avoided a hefty invoice to get in for a shower. Note to self: don’t leave anything in a changing room again.

When we finally got back inside the key was lying there on a table in the changing room. It was gone 11 by the time I got home. So much for an early Sunday night!