Dancing and Tombstones

In the Jewish religion it is custom to hold an unveiling ceremony to commemorate the dead and to lay a tombstone by the grave.  Following this tradition the unveiling for my sister and father was held last Sunday, just over a year after their passing.  Because they died within three weeks of each other the unveiling ceremony was conducted for both of them at the same time.  I was unable to attend so I wrote a speech which my mother read out at their gravesides.  My sister’s name was Janine but we all called her by her nickname ‘Nini’:

‘I am sorry that I am unable to be here today. Although I am not here physically I am here in spirit, heart and soul. I have no wish today to talk about my father and sister’s pain and suffering. Instead I want to tell about the positive memories I have of both of them.

Like the video my sister filmed when she was nineteen, of her and a friend dancing to the song ‘Vogue’ by Madonna. They both had such serious looks on their faces while performing robotic dance moves that I could not stop laughing while I watched them. Nini had a black fedora perched on the side of her head while she bopped around. It must have been stuck on with super glue! I was amazed it did not fall off!

Or the time when my sister and I watched the seriously spooky ‘Twin Peaks’ on TV. We would go upstairs to watch it on the little TV set in my parents’ bedroom. We would sit together, with our arms around each other, clutching each other’s hands and squealing with fright every few minutes as we watched the scariest show on television at that time.

I remember the time when I headed deep into the African bush by myself to do some research for my MA in Anthropology. My father gave me a book by the science fiction writer, Larry Niven, to take with me. This book was called ‘Ringworld’ and it became my favourite science fiction book. I read it each night during that week I was away. In the dark night it was my company amongst the snakes and the frogs.

My dad introduced me to science fiction literature when I was very young. It broadened my mind and expanded my imagination and consciousness. I was very lucky to have been given that gift from him. The other gift that my father gave me was to show me how much men love and need their sport! It was my training for the day I met William, as I have a sports mad husband and thanks to my upbringing I understand more than most women how men need their space to pursue their beloved sports interests! William thanks you for that dad!

I want to end by quoting from a song. When Nini and I were young there was a film called ‘Fame’, which we both loved. There was a song from it that we would sing to each other:

‘I sing the body electric
I celebrate the me yet to come
I toast to my own reunion
When I become one with the sun

And I’ll look back on Venus
I’ll look back on Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time
And in time
We will all be stars’

My daddy and Nini are now stars in Heaven, resting in G-d’s love and light.’

 

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Art Review – Singapore National Gallery – 15 December 2015

Singapore National Gallery is a new art gallery in the centre of Singapore, near Raffles Hotel. I viewed a small collection based on the work of Singaporean artists from the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Here is my review:

I crouch down towards the floor. Five wooden objects and brown lines of paint on the wall are meticulously placed in a diagonal in front of me. I close my left eye and instantly these entities transform into a sturdy chair. I laugh with delight and astonishment, as if I have tasted chocolate for the first time. Matthew Ngu’s ‘Chair’ (1997) is the only sculpture amidst paintings and installations offered by contemporary Singaporean artists in this exhibition.

The pleasure continues as I view, awestruck, ‘Untitled’ by Baet Yeok Kuan (1988). Twin antique doors, delicately painted in crimson, gold and black and adorned with images of fierce Chinese warriors, form the centre of this vast construction. Faded posters of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo are a neat constellation of masochism around these pretty panels. Ancient cognisance is juxtapositioned with contemporary superficiality. I want to fling these bulging doors open and flee into antiquity.

Less lovely, but just as compelling, is Wong Shih Yaw’s ‘Transformation’ (1989). A fully grown male, vulnerable in his nakedness, is yanked out of a black bag by a bony outstretched arm grasping his neck. Another skeletal arm is peeling the bag away. A calm symmetry, created by the v-shape of the arms, clashes with the man’s wincing and scrunched face. Framing this torment are swirls of oily daubs painted in the colour of blood. The pain emancipating from the canvas disturbs me yet I cannot stop staring at this powerful horror show, reminiscent of the viciousness of birth.

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Dreaming in Singapore

Last night I dreamt of the dead.  I danced at a family gathering, during which I kissed cousins hello and chatted to my quiet dead father. I dreamed of holding my dying sister in my arms, soothing her to sleep and telling her to let go. I searched amongst the noisy crowd and found my friend Ingrid, who had left us in the summer, sitting across the table from me. Her beautiful brown eyes were glowing with light and she was smiling at me.

To wake from dreaming of the dead is a strange experience. I expect to be sad but instead I feel a weird sense of delight. I feel soothed because those souls I love are at peace and have used their spiritual force to connect with me while I slept.

Each day, since my sister and father passed last winter, I cry and mourn for all of those I have lost. An unexpected void of loneliness opened up in me when Ingrid died. Grief does not flow past me like the seasons do. It hangs around, creating a timeless and barren space in which I exist right now.

I did not realise how much the suffering of the dying would affect me. Even now. I could be washing the dishes and the memory of seeing my father and sister dying together in the same hospice will blast through my body, like a punch to the solar plexus. I might be window shopping in one of the amazing malls here in Singapore and see a scarf I know Ingrid would like. I will reach for my phone to send her a photo of it. Then the reality that she is dead strikes me, again, and I have to stand still for a minute. I am unable to move from that oppressive sadness which immobilises me for a short while.

But today is different. The connection with the dead in my dreams has comforted me. This grief has made me lifeless but now I feel small flickers of energy returning to my soul. I will go to our divine roof top pool and let the sun pour its healing rays into me. Before another thunderstorm hits.

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Sushi Christmas

So my eating tour of Singapore continues. I am hampered by the exasperating and sometimes exhausting fact that there is so much of the food here I cannot eat. Having PCOS means I have to eat a low-carb and low-sugar diet, so the myriad of pastries and cakes that seem to swarm into my vision each time I go into a shopping mall, are out for me. So are the multitude of noodles that seem to inhabit every dish here. I can have the occasional bits of rice and delicious creamy pumpkin and glorious fudgy purple sweet potatoes. In small portions of course! All of that is a real treat for me. I also have to avoid soya, although the small forays I have made into bean curd seem to have very little effect on my PCOS symptoms, so here’s hoping! To complete matters I am allergic to seafood and having ME/CFS means I also have to avoid gluten and msg, which is added to a lot of food here.

But have appetite – and a bit of greed – will eat! So I have gone for food that either has no carbs, like Japanese shabu shabu or Indian/Malay food, which has less msg and I can always ask them to hold the rice. The best so-called fast food meal we have had is at a large open air hawker stall about 10 minuets walk from our apartment. They serve the most delicious Indian/Malay food. I have never seen it empty! I usually ask for the curry set consisting of delicious morsels filled with the intense piquant flavours of the East. I made the mistake of eating their savoury rice on our first outing there, which was divine, but laced with msg and I ended up with a three day migraine! I have now learnt to ask which food has msg in. Their steamed rice, which is delicious and fluffy, does not contain any msg.

The set consists of vegetables, a cucumber salsa, curried chicken, rice and a curry sauce. Last weekend I had green beans which had such a delicate smoky flavour I could not stop shoveling them into my mouth! This food is superb. I can’t stop feeding my face there! My favourite eatery has no serviettes and we sit on plastic chairs at plastic tables, so typical of hawker stalls in Singapore. The chef, who dishes up the food, does so with a taciturn and sometimes grim expression on his face. But when we compliment his food, tell him how much we love it, his face glows with happiness and his lips turn up into a shy smile.  Below is one of the numerous curry sets I have now eaten there! I will post soon on my adventures with shabu shabu.

Best Indian food stall

 

As I am Jewish I don’t celebrate Christmas but Will, who is not Jewish, does. So we always have a gentle Christmas. This year we started the day with a swim on our rooftop pool. Will loves the novelty of swimming on Christmas day. I love the novelty of eating Christmas cake – gluten free of course! I found it interesting to observe the differences in celebration of the day between the UK and Singapore. In the town where we lived in the UK almost every house has a nuclear shine from the enormous amounts of Christmas decorations and Santas, which are powered by vast chunks of electricity. Here, in Singapore, Christmas is an understated affair. A few apartment blocks have delicate strands of silver tinsel at the entrances but very few decorate their own homes. It also  took me about five minutes to understand the holiday travel notice at our local MRT (underground) station. I could not work out the change in service hours over Christmas Eve. I am used to public transport services being curtailed very early on this day in the UK. I finally realised that the last MRT train would run at 1.30am. Completely opposite to the UK! These extended hours allow for Singaporeans, and us ex-pats, to go out and have fun way past sunset on Christmas Eve, which is not possible in the UK if you don’t have a car!

A few nights ago I tried sushi for the first time at a local place. I was always worried about trying it because of my seafood allergy. But I was able to select the pieces which did not contain any lobster or crab. It was all-consuming deliciousness! Will ordered salmon from the menu and then we played a good guessing game as to what came our way via the offerings on the belt which went all the way around the sushi bar. Being a sushi virgin I thought that because we had ordered from the menu all the food from the belt was free! So my greedy self kept pulling off plates of exquisite bits of tuna mayonnaise nestling in fried bean curd, delicate salmon draped over sticky rice and slivers of cucumber wrapped in more rice and seaweed. Only at the end of the evening did Will, who has never seen me eat so much at one sitting, told me that we had to pay for it all! To my acute embarrassment I realised my greed and naivety had cost him a fortune. I have not managed to venture into another sushi bar just yet. My face burns with the shame of it all! I was so full I did not need to eat until the following evening. But I still did.

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Letter From Singapore – 10 December 2015

Kovan Market Hawker Stalls -Nasi LemakOur nearest mall is called the Heartland Mall, opposite the Kovan MRT (a Singapore underground station).  Next to it is a huge indoor market and hawker food stalls.

Today I had lunch there.  I had a traditional Malay dish called Nasi Lemak, which consists of chili paste, fried chicken, boiled peanuts, anchovies, a slice of omlette, rice cooked in coconut milk and cucumber.  All for just $2.50, which is about £1.25!  Delicious!

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Letter From Singapore – 16 October 2015

Finally, all our paperwork has been sorted! Will has got an Employment pass and I have what is known as a Dependent pass. The pass is for two years, with the possibility of renewing it for another two years. Our plan is to keep our UK home and one of us will come back to the UK three to four months to see my mother, friends, stock up on supplies (tampax is very expensive here!) and for Will, to go see his beloved West Ham play.
Last weekend we hired an agent to help us find a place to rent. She was referred to us by Will’s boss and I am so glad we paid the money to get her help. We would have been lost otherwise. She took us to see 10 flats on Saturday, each with their own estate agent waiting to pounce on me and Will! She was our barrier against all of that! There were two estate agents that terrified me and Will and we would have been eaten alive by them if it wasn’t for her.
We wanted to stay outside the city centre and away from other ex-pats. That way the rents are cheaper and we can get a real sense of living in the true Singapore! Rents are even more expensive than London! Flats are tiny but are beautifully built. All come with a communal pool. We saw some flats in high rise buildings but we both prefer low rise.
After much negotiation and second viewings of our favourite flats on the Sunday we got the one we really wanted. The building is a low rise, in the Kovan area, we have a top floor flat. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is very small but full of light. Above is a rooftop pool and terrace, so we are very excited that we only have to go one floor up to the pool! The flat has a nice balcony which we can sit on, which I have missed having in our UK flat.

Tonight I am meeting Will, our wonderful agent and the estate agents at the flat to get the keys. Tomorrow we leave the hotel and go there to live! The place is only partially furnished so we have to go shopping for towels, crockery etc!

Will is so happy! It is so good to see him like this. Even though he is working such long hours his commuting time is very little and we get to see each other every night, instead of just the weekends. So we can have lots of quality time together and lots of cuggles (our word for a cuddle and a hug!)
More things I have learnt about Singapore:
If you smile at waiters and say thank you they let you off a few cents off the bill (the tax part) when you buy breakfast.
If you greet the doormen at your hotel every time you see them they smile a lot and always ask if there is anything they can help you with.

If you offer your seat on the bus to elderly Chinese women the bus drivers, who are usually very grumpy, will smile and go out of their way to advise you when to get off at your stop.
I think they value really good manners here! I like it.
The streets are so quiet. It is frowned upon and unusual to make a noise in the street. A few days ago, as I was leaving the hotel in search of my usual breakfast of yoghurt and fruit, I suddenly heard yelling. A car had cut off a cyclist right at the entrance at our hotel. The cyclist was so enraged he kept pounding the car bonnet with his fists and swearing and screaming: ‘you almost f-cking killed me’ over and over again.
The cyclist was a middle aged Australian man and the driver was a young Chinese man who started to film this display of bicycle rage with his mobile phone! The entire street was transfixed! Everyone around stopped walking and just stared. Eventfully, after about five minutes of this a manager came out of the hotel and tried to calm things down.
Owning a car is very expensive here. If you do own one it cannot be older than ten years. Singapore does a roaring trade exporting second hand cars and the streets are full of very new and very swish cars.
If one of the locals asks me how I am I always say I am great, even if I having a terrible ME or grief day. That is because the locals work such long hours and often with little pay, so I would feel very selfish if I said anything else than great! A very good lesson in positivity here for me.
And finally, some of you might have seen this….
On the 16 October last year my baby sister Janine died from cancer. She was only 43. Three weeks later, to the day, my father died, from cancer as well. Grief like this is transformative. Some of the grief comes from the hideous experience of watching my dying father sit shiva for his dead daughter. Most of it comes from the memory of the suffering my sister went through. A bit comes from reflecting on my own relationships with both of them. But all of it comes from the extraordinary power that loss holds over all of us.
I am a changed person from it all. I hope I am a better person. I have certainly learnt that even in the darkest moments, in such uncharted territory where I have really felt like a stranger in a strange land, the kindness and support of my friends and from those I barely know, have brought so much light into that darkness.

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Letter From Singapore – 4 October 2015

Singapore is wonderful so far.  After a long flight we arrived at the hotel and had a good night’s sleep.  So far the jet lag has not effected us too badly.  This morning we found a little cafe for breakfast, I had yogurt and fruit and Will had a full English.
We then walked around the streets and shopping malls for several hours.  We walked for around 11 kilometres today.  The shopping malls are amazing.  For those SA’s you will know what I mean when I say that the malls remind me of Jo’burg malls.  There are loads of people about shopping,.  Each mall has a food court serving Asian and Western style food.  I had a tuna salad for lunch and Will had a sandwich.
People are reserved here  but if you smile when talking to them they become really friendly and happy.
The underground is amazing.  The floors shine with cleanliness and there is no litter anywhere at all.
It costs about 70p for a journey between stops. All the trains have air con.  Tomorrow I will try the buses.
Our hotel is huge, the room small but comfortable.  We will stay here for two weeks and hopefully by then I will have found us a nice apartment to rent.
Singapore is small, it takes about an hour to to get from one side to the other.  There a are a lot of tall buildings and sky scrapers, but interspersed are a lot of green spaces.  It is a beautiful place.
The weather is very hot and muggy.  It is like being in a hot and steamy shower.  I love the heat so it suits me fine!  Most shops are air-conditioned though.
Tomorrow I am going to go to the Jewish centre and see about attending shul.  It is my sister’s  Yahrzeit – the Jewish memorial day to commemorate her about one year after she passed.  Because I can’t go to her grave I will see if I can go to a shul service and say a prayer for her there.
Will starts his new job tomorrow.  He is excited and happy.

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