We Interrupt This List. . .

For the move.

Someone asked me yesterday how the move to Switzerland is going.  Innocent enough question.  But it took an hour to answer.  Poor friend, she was just showing interest — maybe like you are, showing up here, reading this blogpost, peeking in with your soft smile — and I left her quivering.

I promise not to do that here.

Although, take a look at the length of this post. Nowhere under an hour.

Before I explain in relatively measured terms “how the move to Switzerland is going”, I want to be clear about one very important thing.  Full disclosure, flat disclaimer: I come from Mormon pioneer stock.  With that history ever present in my consciousness, I, more than anyone, twinge at wimpy whiners.  My ancestors on both sides, paternal and maternal, were X-treme survivors. The Daltons, Glaziers, Huntingtons, Jacobsens, Johnsons, Leavitts, Abbots, Woodruffs— they all left their homes in central Europe, Scandinavia and Great Britain to cross the globe at the price of  unspeakable sacrifice for their religion and a new (but still brutally demanding) life in the American west.

My husband’s ancestors, come to think of it, were X-treme pioneers, too. Pilgrims, actually. In fact, if you know the name of William Bradford, (passenger on the Mayflower, governor of Plymouth colony, founder of Thanksgiving), you’ve met our Grandpa sixteen generations back.

All this blood tramps stoically through my family’s veins.

These are family, and they left family, home, health, belongings, safety, beautiful Danish coasts and French valleys and English countrysides, languages, loves, and lost their own lives along the agonizing trail leading to the wild blue yonder. Mothers never saw their sons again after kissing them on the cheek on a damp Welsh harbor. Fathers buried their daughters under the desert’s sagebrush. Children lost their little limbs when they froze in the brittle bed of a hand-hewn wagon.

I’ve read many of their journals. I’ve marveled and wept at their conviction and heroism. (And can anyone call it anything less than heroism?) I’ve read in one sitting Of Plymouth Plantation with my brows furrowed, wondering, “Were these folks even human?”

And I’ve cheered Wallace Stegner, who in his introduction to The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, writes:

I should prefer to deal with the Mormon pioneers, if I can, as human beings of their time and place, the earlier ones westward-moving Americans, the later ones European converts gripped by the double promise of economic betterment and eternal life.  Suffering endurance, discipline, faith, brotherly and sisterly charity, the qualities so thoroughly celebrated by Mormon writers, were surely well distributed among them, but there also was a normal amount of human cussedness, vengefulness, masochism, selfishness, and gullibility.  So far as it is possible, I shall try to follow George Bancroft’s rule for historians: I shall try to present them in their terms and judge them in mine.  That I do not accept the faith that possessed them does not mean I doubt their frequent devotion and heroism in its service. Especially their women.  Their women were incredible. (Emphasis added. Shout-out mine.)

All this preamble to say that, as I tell you about our move from Singapore to Switzerland, I’m the first one to wag a firm finger at my pettiness.  Believe me.  Under my kind of family tree, any and all hardships shrink in the shadow.

But you might be curious anyway. After all, this blog is intended as a breeding ground for my book about living internationally for over two decades, and I can’t write about that without writing about The Moves.

This Move came at us a bit out of the blue. When Randall and I accepted the new post in Singapore, we had been in Munich for three years.  The understanding was that this job in Asia would last for several years, long enough, at least, to get our then 14-year-old, Dalton, who had already attended five different schools in three different mixes of languages, safely through his high school years.  To make matters worse (or better), both our boys had established important friendships with teachers and students here in Singapore—had gotten traction, let’s say—which for one son especially, was a tender, vital miracle. Safe to say they were thriving and remarkably, steadily happy.  A parent’s dream.

But what we’d dreamed would continue for our children’s sake did not, alas, happen.  Thus is life. The news that we were going to move at least two years sooner than promised hit our boys hard.  To give them a chance to catch their breath and let the swelling go down in their red eyes by school on Monday, we told them on a Saturday.

Luc called it a Sadder Day.

Almost immediately, Randall began doing two jobs at once, the one on this side of the planet, and the other one way over there.  This meant he was doing that 18 time-zones thing, a marathon he has long since mastered, though it does wear him down.  My man is King o’ the Red Eye, of leading meetings on 3 hours sleep spent on his side next to a stranger whose snoring he breathes in along with the germ-infested-cabin-pressured-recycled-air.  He’s the type who walks in the door at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, the dirt of Moscow or Prague or Buenos Aires still in the tread of his shoes, then spends the day loving his family, and, nine hours later, repacks his carry-on with his blood shot eyes closed and in half the time it takes to check for his passport while taxi’s waiting, he blowin’ his horn.

I write this to underscore that, just as the tectonic plates start shifting beneath our feet and when it would help for us all to be on the same one, we are, instead, doing it by Skype, 3:00 a.m. phone calls, texting.  My ancestors had none of this. Parchment and the pony express were the very best they could hope for. Think how SMS might have saved the martyrs of the Mayflower and the Mormon trail.

So here we are, texting our lists, negotiating our concerns and packing boxes throughout the three-month interim since Sadder Day. There have been micro-bursts of deadline-driven activities, all pulled by The Move, and they are getting closer together.  Like contractions. So here’s a quick-down of how labor’s going:

CLOCK IT BACKWARDS:  This means we start planning logistics from the end and work backward. We’ve researched and found that most Swiss or international schools begin end of August/beginning of September, and so we hope to be settled into a place by that date, which means we can function on a daily basis, even though it might mean out of cardboard boxes and which box, by the way, has all our shoes?

Getting there from zero takes one to two weeks, since I usually work maniacally, day and night, and often the kids work alongside me which makes for a party. So we want to be on Swiss ground with our goods delivered by the second week of August. This means sending off our goods 6-8 weeks before that date.

Which means the movers show up next week.

Which means everything must be sorted or sold or cleaned by then, and every last thing we own (down to the forks, extension cords and paper clips) must be itemized and, in some cases, measured and weighed.

Measured and weighed, you ask?  I learned this on one move where I estimated (instead of tape measured) the length of our beds and they were three centimeters too long for the only space meant for beds in the leeetle Versailles house we moved into. As a result, we were never able to fully close those bedroom doors. For three years, our feet poked out into the hallway.

You weigh things in case you have to employ a monts-meuble, (literally: furniture hoist, but it looks like an escalator without handrails) as we did in the heart of Paris, to get your things from street level up to the floor of your apartment. The movers need to know if your dresser requires the GRAND MONTS-MEUBLE, or the petit monts-meuble. Handy stats help expedite that kink in the move.

In order to have your things delivered to your future home, you need to have found and signed on that home. And to have that home, you need to determine where you will be living, the general geographic radius. To determine that radius, you need your children to be accepted in a school. So you get busy. . .

FINDING A SCHOOL:  For us, the school, as much as any other entity, has been the  geographic/gravitational center for our family’s life in each international setting.   Our children spend five days a week there, their circle of friends come largely (though not exclusively nor even primarily) from that community, and with the exception of the French school Dalton and Luc attended in Paris where parental involvement was not encouraged, I have spent a lot of time on those campuses as an active volunteer.

So finding a school is important.

It is also where we are sitting in a stalemate this time around.

Explanation: Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) is shaped a bit like a squashed croissant with Geneva at the far left end, Lausanne at about the half-way point, Montreux at the far right. The drive (without traffic) from Geneva to Montreux is 1 ½ hours.  Randall’s office (when he’s not in the air) is halfway between Geneva and Lausanne.

Before visiting Switzerland, and based on the best practical reasoning we could come up with, we targeted three schools; one close to Geneva, another close to Lausanne, another close to Montreux. We then used our trip of three weeks ago to visit each of them, talk with administrators and students, drive the roads and get a feeling for the areas. We applied to all three schools.

This means filling out applications, getting multiple letters of recommendation for each child, getting medical releases and detailed physician forms, having the kids write extended introductory essays by hand, getting photos taken, gathering school records for the last three years of school (which means requesting them from Munich), and finally having parent tours and interviews.

All done.

And we are still waiting to get acceptances. Acceptances are rather capricious, I am learning, and hinge on classroom availability, not academic ability or private donations. When a space opens up in a given class, the next person on the waiting list is slipped in, first come first sere, as tidy as a Rubik’s cube. Clickety-clickety-click.

You’d think.

Things aren’t quite as clickety as we’d hoped, because it could be that one son will be accepted, another not.  Will we put the boys in two different schools? Is that logistically possible? All three schools are at least a 45-minute drive from one another. What does that mean for transportation? How much do I love driving, (even if it is driving along the French Alps?)

Should I home school, if one or the other is not accepted in one of these schools? Or should we enroll one or both of the boys in local Swiss schools? It has been five years since they attended French school, and they’ve studied German and Mandarin in the meantime. Will their tongues be tied or even loosely knotted? Or will a bit of scrambling to get back up to speed in academic French be, in the end, a great thing? Knowing the tightly-coiled French system as I do, is it unwise to just drop a non-native teenager into its machinery? One that doesn’t have that certain DNA needed to fit into le gymnase? One thing is sure, that at Dalton’s stage with college applications looming, derailing him right now doesn’t seem prudent.  So  I have been surfing home-schooling sites, and am now well-versed in all the Swiss public schooling options lining the long and lovely Lac Léman.

No one can accuse me of not doing my due diligence.

Back to the issue: getting the boys accepted to one school.  This precedes another weighty factor, and that is. . .

FINDING A HOUSE: Did I mention the movers come next week?  And when they do, it is not only customary but it is preferable—even necessary—to know what your belongings will be dumped into on the receiving end. Why?

Let me take you back to the Goldilocks story of beds three centimeters too long.  Or taller tales, like, will there be a garage? A basement? A yard? Equipped bathrooms? Closets? Will there be a ventilation pipe coming through the wall just where the armoire must stand (since, holy schmoley, there are no closets)?

Will there be walls (for bookshelves or pictures) and not just windows? Windows (for the curtains I had to get for this home) and not just walls? Will there be a staircase so narrow, my child’s desk will not make the corner? Can I take the ping-pong table, last year’s Christmas surprise for the boys? Or must I take it, but only because it can double as dining table and master bed? Will there be a kitchen? (I have moved into two places where there was not one.  Just a water spigot and a lone light bulb dangling from a wire. We had to build).

Will there be room for a piano, or do I have to sell that family heirloom and pull out the electronic keyboard for the next five years? Will there be floors that need rugs, rugs that need cleaning, cleaning machines already on hand (washer, dryer, a mop), handy commerce, or a commercial dearth with the nearest loaf of bread a 20-minute funicular ride down a mountain?  Will the ceilings be too low for bunk beds, unless you can train your top-bunk child to slide in sideways and always sleep with his head turned sharply to the left?

Things like this. Details.

While in Switzerland three weeks ago, we visited as many homes as possible to get a feeling for all of the above.  There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us, and with my list of measurements and weights in hand, I am convinced we’ll be able to settle in just fine.  But the one place that will fit for one school won’t be available after next week.  The other place that fits for the other school will be gone after mid-month. And the home that fits for the third school will go to another party if we cannot finalize by the first of July.

Which we cannot do until, uh-huh, we know about a school. And if the schools grant an acceptance, they won’t hold that place indefinitely. They’ll want a commitment within a week of said acceptance.

Did I mention the movers?

My pioneer ancestors home schooled, which is looking really appealing right about now.  They also ate viper meat and slept under buffalo hides.  They also carried everything they owned in a rickety wooden wagon pulled by sickly oxen.  Or sicklier parents.

Poor, poor petty-full me.

Between now and a week from today, I am doing all I can to be ready.  Listing. Selling. Giving. Sorting. Cleaning. Measuring. Weighing. Waiting. Listing. Writing about listing. And Listing.

KEEP LISTS:

All my fan palms and blade trees are going to friends.

Books not touched in 20 years, going.

CD’s, loading.

Documents, color-coding.

Albums, consolidating.

VHS’s, finally hucking.

(I am quite sentimental, and my original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had to go, but not without a solitary, sniffly bang.)

And finally, here is where being a Virgo really kicks in. I put colored stickers on just about everything.  Slap me, but even pretending you have a system wards off the krazees when chaos overtakes your landscape.  So I’ll share:

CONCOCT A SYSTEM:

Blue sticker: Air shipment To live off of for the interval between your arrival and the arrival of your sea shipment, if it does indeed arrive, since it might end up at the bottom of the Panama Canal.  Which happens.

Green sticker: Sea shipment Remind me to tell you about our arrival in Rue du Colonel Combes and how the container had indeed made it across the ocean, but not without the ocean making it inside of the container.  What luck that all the movers were former fishermen from the coastal towns of Brittany, and for some reason some were actually wearing hip waders. Because when they opened the big metal door at the back of the truck, a briny cascade gushed out and turned our little street into a tributary of the Seine. More descriptions to come.

Red sticker: Suitcases for two months Before flying on to Geneva, we will move into temporary housing then fly from Singapore to the States, where we will spend two weeks preparing our daughter, Claire, for her entrance on August 1st into two months of intensive language training in preparation for her departure to Rome, Italy, where she’ll spend a year and a half as a volunteer representative for our church.  She will be packing strategically, for 18 months of hard work. The rest of us will be packing Kleenex.

Black sticker: Sell or give away It has been unfortunate when the movers have mistakenly wrapped up and loaded for shipment the tacky Oktoberfest beer stein with deer-antler handles, or the pressboard side tables purchased at Osco Bargain Barn when we were in college and $20 was a splurge, or the microwave so old and leaky, it could make hair sprout on your eyeballs.  The same movers left behind in a pile of “unclaimed junk” the irreplaceable framed photograph of grandpa Reed shaking hands with the Ayatollah, the wedding dress in an unmarked box, and all the bed linens.  Don’t let the dross fraternize with your valuables. For this one and only moment in your life, believe that segregation works. Mark ‘em.

Orange sticker: storage Keep a detailed list of what you put here. Take measurements. Take pictures. From all angles.  Be persnickety.  Think CSI. And keep them on file. You’ll thank me one day.

But I do not want your tacky beer stein as payment. Have one.

Still, if someday in a flea market in Duluth or Doylestown you should find a picture of a bald man with glasses shaking hands with the Ayatollah, you know how to find me.

AND KEEP IT ON FILE

AGAIN, KEEP EVERYTHING ON FILE

AND BACK UP YOUR FILES

Remember that you will simplify life by cataloguing the dimensions (and value and weight and condition) of your belongings.  You can avoid sawing off the end of your kitchen table legs (so it will fit under that pesky window ledge), as I had to do once.

Actually, it was only a darned centimeter, but I had to make it work, so I didn’t really saw them off.  I just filed them off.  So when people say to me, “Wow, you’ve managed all these moves. You must have so many files!”, I narrow my eyes and say, “You have no idea.”

So . . .off to managing the adventure of this life-on-the-move. This week our children are in final exams, Randall is in a neighboring hemisphere, and I am saying farewell to this fabulous city and to friends who have settled so deeply and broadly into my right ventricle, I feel the pressure, and it’s stretching my heart.  While we’re at it, the house is on the market again, so there are strangers visiting regularly with real estate agents. A miniscule inconvenience, I know.  My ancestors were being visiting by violated tribes of Apaches and herds of bison, just to keep things in perspective. It  means, though, that I have to be on hand in the house. And we’ve determined it is perhaps best I am clothed in something a bit more presentable than a bathrobe.

Oh, the demands.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

#2: Moveable Feasts

Hemingway was right.  “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

I lived several years in Paris, and though I was not a young man (or woman), I understand with a pang of deepest attachment what Hemingway felt.  Because no matter where I have gone in the rest of my life, Paris has indeed stayed with me.  Like your skin stays with you.  Or your heartbeat.

Taking Hemingway’s words out of context, someone might misunderstand that the “feast” he was referring to has nothing to do, really, with dégustation. He was not talking about Paris being Paris because of her crème brulées with their perfectly crisp caramelized crusts, or her most delicately filled profiteroles, or her buttery croissants, or even her hors d’oeuvres hors déscription. He was talking about something much broader and deeper than food. He was talking about the aesthetic richness and the elevated intellectual climate of a city that fed (artistically more than physically) the likes of Joyce, Pound, Stein and the Fitzgeralds.  Paris, Hemingway meant, offers food for the soul as much or more than food for the body, and is, like any of the original moveable feasts of the Christian calendar, a landmark from which to measure all one’s remaining days.

But I’m supposed to be writing about Singapore, aren’t I? So why begin this post with Paris? Because there is an unlikely likeness between Singapore and Paris.

That likeness is both cities’ juicy, steamy, spicy love affair with food.

“Singaporeans spend a lot of time eating and thinking about food,” Singapore’s former Foreign Minister George Yeo has said.  “Even while we are eating, we are already thinking of the next meal.  It is an inseparable part of our culture.” I have witnessed this and can tell you that it is true.  Food — its ingredients, its origins, its preparation, its presentation, its authenticity, its variety, its accessibility, its artistry, its pure fun — is a gravitational center in Singapore, as much recreation as creation, as much a quasi-religion here as it is Paris.

One of the reasons Singapore is a foodie’s mecca is #1 on my list of What I Will Really Miss About Singapore:  Diversity.  With so many wildly different cultures converging in one place, you get a flavorful cross-pollination of cuisines. While there aren’t multiple Michelin star restaurants (I’ve heard there are just two, opened up recently in the Marina Bay Sands, but I’m not frequenting them, just to say), the stuff that draws the non-stop stream of food tours here is what you can buy off the street. Literally.

Street Food. . .Or Food Off the Street

This big palette of mixed ethnic cuisines is so accessible—more accessible, I’d say, than in Paris— thanks to something called hawker centers. Hawkers, I have been told, began as individual roving restaurants, moveable feasts.  By carrying their simple woks and steam pans around the streets, the hawkers could set up makeshift kitchens where workers were gathered in the laundry ghetto, the coastal fronts, the quarries and construction sites spotting this island. They are the original hot dog or Philly cheese steak street vendors, you might say.  Evolved from those beginnings are today’s many hawker centers, where owners have their own stalls from which they serve their specialty foods. Hawker centers are lively, authentic (code for: the FDA might have some issues, okay, but a thin layer of grime adds flavor), and inexpensive.  That is unless the hawker center is situated in an expatriate enclave like Newton Circus, where the dishes tend to pricier.  But overall, the hawker experience is gastronomical and economical. And you get this table-side entertainment:

Ask any taxi driver, and he’ll be able to tell you of his favorite hawker center. Or he can direct you to any of Singapore’s countless holes-in-walls where you can sample the best crispy jelly fish (is that even legal?), roasted Peking duck, (I’ve heard it goes by Beijing these days), chicken rice and fish head curry, (Singaporean specialties), cuttle fish and cockles, fried carrot cake, oyster omelets, and, if you are up for it, a piping hot vat of pig organ soup.

(Since you were wondering).

What?  No yum yet?

You have to trust me and just wander a bit, find your favorite markets, weave in around the baskets, and simply sample things.  And a tip: don’t trust the labeling. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

There are some especially inventive combinations, recipes the world’s top chefs are yet perfecting:

When not wandering and wondering about deep fried ice cream hot dogs, I like to stop in at a place called the Murugan Idli Shop in Syed Alwi Road in Little India. The simple and fresh vegetarian Indian fare is perfect for brunch before making your way through the labyrinth that is Mustafa’s shopping center right across the street. I also like Banana Leaf Apollo in Race Course Road where the curries are slopped on the big waxy green banana leaf in front of you and you are welcome to eat with your fingers, like everyone else.  There are also all the small and charming restaurants in Ann Siang Road in China Town.  And the chili crab at East Coast Park.  And the Thai place. And the Cambodian place. And the vegan Vietnamese place.

And, wouldn’t you know it? The Bonheur Patisserie.

When I move from here (and the truck comes in only nine days), I know I will miss Singapore’s eclectic mix of multi-ethnic food. Wouldn’t you?  Singapore, albeit a little equatorial speck on the map, might compete with Paris, our planet’s Grande Dame of an epicurean epicenter. At least that is my experience.  But please, if you know of another city that does food as well as Singapore, I’d love to hear from you.

Until then, stroll through this.  It is your guide to some of Singapore’s best hawker centers. Singapore best hawkers-1

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Diversity 101

Speaking of the enormously appealing diversity of Singapore, I stumbled into some today.  In a mall, of all places.

Out to buy some sports gear as a family, we heard music playing on the ground floor of Novena Shopping Center.  The musician in me was easily lured, and while the others stayed upstairs to grab some lunch, I bounded down the escalator, iPhone in hand, bee-lining it toward the source. It was traditional Cambodian music being performed live with a troupe of, you guessed it, traditional Cambodian dancers. This is what I captured:

Just think: this is your run-of-the-mill mall on an average hum-drum Saturday of your typical ho-hum week.

The Cambodian number finished to make way for the Thai troupe.  And this is what I captured:

I weaseled my way closer to get still shots of these elegant dancers.  I especially wanted a close-up of their impossibly delicate hands with those hallmark curved fingers, maybe a well-lit angle of their polished faces, those eyes dipped low, the permanently beguiling smile, but I never go it. Because as soon as I got close enough to snap that perfect shot of dancer #3, she slinked down off the performance platform and took my hand, whispering, “Come dance, Madame?”

So while my kids shrunk in a far corner of the upper mezzanine, mortified by their Mom —“You leave her alone for two minutes, and look what you get,” muttered Dalton with half a smile—this is what my husband captured:

You’ll think I’m over-romanticizing, but honestly, I cannot step through the door into this city without happening upon all sorts of encounters just like this.  Granted, the Subway sandwich franchise you see in these shots betrays how westernized, sanitized, and, for some tastes, neutralized Singapore seems. “Asia lite”, some call it.  Having now tasted a fair amount of “Asia-dense” to make the comparison, I guess I have to concede. There is some truth to that claim.

But if in one banal mall stop I can get my teenaged sons their 6″ Chicken Bacon Ranches and I can kick up bit of Thai dust with the likes of these lovely artists, I am content to accept a whole lot of Asia lite.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

What I Will Really Miss About Singapore

Fifteen days and counting. Right now is always about the point in an international move where my brain flips into hyper-list-making mode, its primitive way of revving up my otherwise sluggish neurotransmitters. My iPad, lap top, Excel, iPhone and Post It lists are supposed to save me from missing vital cues during this stretch between point of departure and port of entry. They remind me to sell this. Clean that. Huck this. Turn off this. Turn on that. Find this. Lose that. Cancel that. Warn them. Beg her. Petition him. Close these. Open those. Wrap these. And stack everything (and everyone) else right over there, thank you.

One such list awoke me in the middle of the night and I’ll tell you, it was a rowdy roll call. It never let me go back to sleep again. After a typical tropical storm blasted open my eyelids at 3:00 a.m., and before I could close them again, I was busily scrolling down this list: What I Will Really Miss About Singapore.

For the next several days, I’ll post my list for you, (gathered from 3:00 to 5:45 a.m. and noted point-by-point on green Post Its) here. It’s by no means exhaustive and with the exception of #1, (which is the thing I’ll miss most, I think), these things aren’t necessarily listed in any specific order. But it gives you an idea. . .

#1. Diversity. The first night our family arrived in Singapore we spent wandering through the muggy, teeming streets of Chinatown. It was there where Dalton predicted in one simple phrase what we would gradually discover over our two years living here. On his left was a Buddhist temple. A few steps farther, a Hindu temple. Even farther, a mosque. Finally, a Christian church. From each of these doorways poured people dressed like extras from either the Chinese, Bollywood, Middle Eastern or the Midwestern movie, and a cascade of inscrutable languages poured out with them. My teenager turned to me and said, “This place is like living every day in Universal Studios.”

Raising the Red Lantern in Singapore’s Chinatown

And he wasn’t so far off. Singapore is craaazily diverse. Its population of about 5 million packed into no more than 224 square miles is composed of multiple cultures. The official languages are English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, its dominant religions Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. But there are dialects and splinter groups of all that, too. Walk any given road and you will see turbans next to Red Sox baseball caps, head scarves next to Hermès scarves, Punjabi suits next to Chanel suits, ninja abayas along side Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle T-shirts. In my neighborhood alone, there are Chinese-speaking Malaysians, Malay-speaking Indians, Tamil-speaking Indonesians, Filipinos, Germans, Canadians, Koreans, Japanese, Mainland Chinese, Irish, Australians and Kiwis, a Texan or two, and some pretty serious looking guys who look like native Singaporeans (whatever that looks like) but who don’t speak at all. Instead, they carry machine guns. They are the guards outside the home of Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister of Singapore, who is reported to have said that with all these cultures converging in one tiny place, Singapore is not a nation, but a “society in transition.” I’ll go for that.

Sultan Mosque in Singapore’s Arab Street

As I wrote, there is a Chinatown, Arab Street, Little India, and Peranakan corners. (Peranakans are, as I understand it, Malaysians with deep Chinese roots.) There is a Goethe Institute as well as an Alliance Française. There are German, Canadian, French, Swiss, and Dutch schools, not to mention the several international schools offering instruction in Chinese and English. Nearly 40% of the population is made up of “foreigners” like us, or like the truckloads of workers who are, my friend from Mumbai told me, mostly Indian themselves, here to work the heavy construction jobs that drive this city-state into the stratosphere. Or at least into the clouds.

I love that I can assume that just about everyone I meet on the street speaks at least two, if not three or four or more languages. (Now, if only those languages were on my own list. . .) I love that we get to celebrate all these flamboyant Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian festivals, that Hari Raya and Puasa and Chinese New Year and Deepevali now mean something to my children. I love that my own religion is set in a global context, and that my children see themselves—white, English-speaking and Christian—as a minority, that we absorb the truth that being any of those things is not the only valid mode of existing is this world. Living in the mix of such diversity reflects the true proportions of this planet we live on. There is immeasurable worth in that, I think, and should train us, I hope, to respect cultural codes and celebrate (and not denigrate) such differences.

Here’s where such cultural exposure gets real:  When Luc recently celebrated his 12th birthday, his 12 friends were like a mini United Nations with Luc as the only fair-haired kid in the bunch. What struck me also, is that as we made the guest list and I quizzed him about these friends, Luc never once mentioned that one was African or Thai or Indian, that they looked brown, yellow or any color at all. (He did, however, casually mention dietary restrictions: “You’ll know who Ali is, Mom. He’s got the biggest eyes and is Muslim, so, you know, he doesn’t do pork.”) And when I asked Luc after the party to help me write thank you notes to each gift-giver, Luc didn’t describe them racially. Instead, this gift here? It was from the kid who is the fastest in the class, and that one was from the funniest, the other one was from the smartest. And this last gift? It was from the one who could do the loudest arm fart.

So maybe not exactly like the U.N.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

Let’s Do Blaunch (Blog-Launch)

…Or I could say writes of passages, since I’ve known them in the plural form.  In this blog, I plan to write about them all.

And what more appropriate blog launch than to begin writing of passages exactly where I stand, smack dab at the crossroads of one.  Today I am straddling worlds–hemispheres, (east and west), countries, cultures, cuisines, climates—with the movers arriving in a matter of days. With me at command central, the crew will pack up our equatorial years and ship them off to our alpine ones. We’re leaving balmy Singapore for brisk Switzerland.

I know, I know.  Not too shabby. Indeed, I feel the golden fortune of this, and am grateful way down past my buckling knees.

After 16 international moves, you’re right to guess that I know this whole spiel by heart. I just pull up the Excel spreadsheet and hit auto pilot, right? Could do it with my eyes closed, hands and feet tied behind my back in a yoga contortion, maybe? Kinda. Sorta. But as I’ve learned over 20+ years of globalicity, these crossroads can either be a predictable stroll to the other curb, or they can slam you broadside.  Inevitably, there will be some unavoidable jerks and mini-whiplashes in between, and as a veteran vagablonde, I can safely say something is bound to happen that at least gets me sweating. Heavily.  (And that means something when you’re not in Singapore.) We’ll just wait and see how this one goes.

Speaking of not sweating, just a week ago today I was standing on the shores of Lake Geneva. I actually had on boots and a sweater, which would have liquefied me on the spot in the perpetual 31˚ Celsius and 95% humidity of Singapore. My husband Randall and I were in Geneva for a few days doing the preliminary legwork of hunting for schools for Dalton and Luc, the two youngest of our four children, the lucky ones who will be accompanying us there in August.  Claire, our college senior studying in the States, had come to Singapore to hold down the roost during our week-long absence.

Geneva is a town begging to be fallen in love with: built along the gray-blue expanse of Lake Geneva, and cupped by the Jura mountain range on one side, Alps on the other, it’s a gentle stunner. It has enough Parisian elegance to remind us of that former home (we were there eight years), enough of Olso’s saltiness to remind us of that former home (we were there five years), enough of Munich’s restraint to remind us of that former home (we were there a total of five years), enough of Vienna’s conviviality to remind us of that former home (we were there a total of over two and a half years), and actually little in common with Hong Kong or Singapore, except for all their diversity.

Geneva’s diversity is due to the presence of the U.N., the W.T.O., the W.H.O., the Red Cross, and numerous international entities including bankers, watchmakers, and candlestick makers. (I’m just tossing them in).  For a metropole, it felt compact, though its 200,000 inhabitants pack a multicultural punch. Nearly 50% of these folks are non-Swiss, I learned interrogating the pretty attendant at the hotel desk, and I witnessed proof of that rumor while wandering the vieille ville (old city), where I heard as much Russian, Korean, Mandarin, German, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and English as I did French.

Since we’re all for diversity, Randall and I, we’re glad we don’t have to give that up in leaving Singapore.  What these two cities have in common besides diversity, though, is their high quality of life.  But as you probably might guess, that quality doesn’t come for free. The home we’re exiting like the one we’re entering both rank neck-in-neck near the top of the list of World’s Most Expensive Cities to live in.  (So whatever happened to getting transferred to Kathmandu?)

But I’m stumbling all over myself, writing us already into the future. We’ll get there soon enough.  For now, there are two more months remaining in Singapore, and for these weeks ahead, as the passage ramps up in slope and speed, I’ll return to write of it.

**

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012.  This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.