Creature Comforts

Visiting Singapore over the last couple of years has been like a quasi coming home for me. Mum and Dad are here, it is warm and often sunny, and for the last couple of January trips, the Aussie Open has been on the TV. It may not be going home home, but there is an element of homeliness to this island. This is helped greatly by something else; Singapore is chock full of expats. This means it is chock full of things expats (and immigrants like me) very much like; creature comforts from home.

Grocery shopping here, at the expat haunts, is like taking a turn about the world. The bread at the bakery is often German, or baked German-style, the meat and fish is shipped in from around the globe (reflected in the horrendous prices) the chocolate aisle is full of Ritter Sport, Kinder and Lindt for the Germans and Swiss, Whittakers for the Kiwis, and Cadbury for the Poms and Aussies, you can buy your Australian milk and yoghurt, Dutch Doppelkeks, American oats and cookies, Malaysian dried mango and half the things, I swear, I can find while doing a DM shop in Kiel (but for triple the price. God bless Germany’s cheap grocery prices.).

Singapore is also chock full of Aussies. Our accents rain down as you walk around the city, or the expat haven of Orchard. Consequently, and thrillingly for me, a trip to the supermarket yields the staples of the Australian diet; Vegemite, Tim Tams and Cadbury chocolate. (We do occasionally eat other things, like lamb and beer.) I know, I know, I live in the land of chocolatey plenty, what on earth am I doing yearning for a block of old Cadbury? I don’t know. I barely ever yearned for it when I lived in Australia, but now the familiarity found in that purple packet tastes wonderful. And on the topic of abundant chocolate in Germany, quite despite it, Germans are yet to come close to nailing the chocolate biscuit. Which is why I will be flying home with ten packets of Tim Tams in my suitcase. A Tim Tam and a cup of tea is like Vegemite toast with a slice of tasty cheese in the morning – an edible dose of home. A warm little sigh of contentment. It’s funny, isn’t it. You can be surrounded by plenty of delicious things in your adult life, but it is so often what you grew up with that offers the greatest comfort.

As die Lüdde grows, and begins sinking her new teeth into all and sundry, I keep thinking of things I enjoyed as a kid and searching for similar things in the German supermarkets. Automatically, from the beginning, I gave her things to eat that were very normal for me as baby/toddler foods and treats, but not so much for my German Mum friends; avocado, sweet potato, peanut butter or vegemite toast, endless bananas, porridge, baked beans, sultanas and dried fruit, beetroot, Anzac biscuits. If I could find some decent ones, I’d give her a mango everyday. She has her Dad to step in and redress the balance by introducing the German staples, like the the humble Rosinenbrötchen and the Wurst she gets every time we go to the butchers (which she now shamelessly demands while the butcher is weighing out the Fleischsalat) and a Kugel of icecream whenever the temperature soars above 15 degrees. She also, tellingly, uses only the German word for ‘cake’, which is probably fair. At this point she eats more like an Aussie kid than a German kid, but that will all change as she grows up and into German culture, and kids at Kita or school have things she wants. Although I suspect she will always love Baked Beans and Vegemite toast and perhaps years down the track will reach for them as her own creature comforts.

Being back in Singapore this time, perhaps for the last time as my parents will soon move back to Oz, I once again have unlimited access to the biscuit aisle, and now a little person to consider when buying my nostalgia-snacks. So alongside the Tim Tams*, this time, I’ll bring home Full o’ Fruits and Milk Arrowroots for die Lüdde, so we can both have a cuppa and an Aussie biscuit together, and feel that comfort, that warm little sigh of contentment.

*And blocks of Cadbury chocolate. And three large jars of Vegemite. And most probably dried mango.

Babies on a Plane

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the night’s sleep preceding a flight will be an unsatisfactory one. It is also, I have learnt, a truth universally acknowledged that the same rules applies for children. Like dogs, they sniff the air and sense something is afoot (as opposed to listening to Mum and Dad when they carefully explain the journey ahead) and that it is worth waking up for, multiple times in the night, to ensure they are completely shattered at 9am the following morning. And, so it was, that when we shoved the boot of the car full of luggage, strapped the kids in, and set off for the airport, we were two coffees deep and fresh as trampled daisies.


The A7 was completely shut down courtesy of a nasty truck accident, which meant we re-routed through Neumünster and the drive to the airport took 90 minutes. Within those 90 minutes the baby learnt how to take a dummy, and I felt like a Rabenmutter as he stared at me accusingly from his chair, suckling furiously, the message clear; take me out. At the check-in desk, the queue was long, Emirates was out of oversized luggage bags, the baby needed feeding, and die Lüdde’s speedy toddler legs needed stretching. But we got through it, and security, and could have done with a stiff drink or three pre-boarding. Instead we took turns monitoring die Lüdde’s shameless asking for snacks from other parents, and keeping an eye on our small mountain of carry-on bags. Flying with kids has shed a rosy glow on the travel of my 20s, in which I could arrive by the skin of my teeth, blast through security, browse through the book shops, all of them, and buy a huge crime novel, en route to my gate, drink wine with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and my snack box, and watch at least 3 and a half movies. Those days are gone.

You may recall, after our last flight to Singapore, five months ago, with a 17 month old toddler, I offered what I feel was a sage parenting gem for those flying with small children; lower your expectations, and then lower them again. We went in with expectations dragging behind us on the floor. Therefore, we exited with fizzy triumph coursing through our veins. Der Lüdde slept and ate the whole time (sage parenting tip number two: babies are so much easier to fly with than mobile children) and Die Lüdde played, ate, watched, strolled and generally kept her shit together. After a comical searh for a courtesy stroller that extended across what felt like a vast part of Dubai’s gargantuan airport, we found one and she promptly fell asleep in it, a blessing given it was past midnight by her body clock and we were careering towards the most feared toddler territory of them all; overtiredness. She slept for most of the Dubai-Singapore leg, sprawled on whichever one of us wasn’t soothing/feeding the baby or eating.


Tja, so here we are. It is gloriously hot (and yet, the baby insists on being carried in his Manduca, as opposed to lying in a lovely aerated pram) and we took an unplanned, half hour walk yesterday that resulted in so much sweat I am feeling positively svelte this morning. We’re four days into the Week of Horror we give ourselves when making this journey. The Week of Horror allows for jetlag, massive meltdowns, ghastly sleep schedules, and even the possibility one or all of us will get sick. So far, so good. Mum’s supply of eucalyptus oil, so drained on our last trip here, has not been tapped into. Our body clocks are slowly adjusting, not only to being six hours ahead, but also to not being bathed in light from 4am until 10.30pm, as we are during the north German summer. SG said yesterday, with mild surprise, ‘6.30pm and the sun is already sinking.’ I said something pithy about how that is normal in our hemisphere, not that Singapore is technically in our hemisphere, but it’s as good as. Anyway, by the time we get to Vietnam for the wedding, we’ll be right as rain. As I type, the rarest of things is occurring; the toddler and the baby are napping. She isn’t making nonsensical demands while covered in apricot jam, he isn’t rooting around for milk for the 48th time since he woke up, and all is blessedly quiet.

I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

From Warmer Climes

Yesterday, I had a moment of self flagellation and considered the very real possibility I am a winter coward. And this cowardice, that sees me hover within the walls of my apartment for a great deal of time, exiting only when I really have to (guilt concerning fresh air, teaching a class, milk for the next morning’s coffee) may be affecting my overall sense of general self. This flagellation occurred quite despite the fact I have, really, come to terms with the fact that for me to survive winter, as an Antipodean reptile, I simply must hibernate, and when I search deep within my soul, I am okay with that. I am able to block out the intonations of ‘there is no such thing as terrible weather, just impractical clothing’, because that is complete rubbish and whoever came up with that saying is someone who was born in a boat in the North Sea and raised with the hares amongst the heather and wild winds. I suspect this flagellation occurred in the first place because in the early hours of the morning, one is prone to overthinking the smallest of things, and suddenly one finds oneself questioning the very meaning of their life and their future, based on how they’re attempting to handle weather.

Anyway. The flipside of all of this is, yesterday, I planned and executed two outings. The first, was a stroll to the local markets for a coffee with a pal. It was sunny and crisp and die Lüdde was completely thrilled by the slippery slide. How tremendous, I thought. Then came a few pellets of rain as the clouds blew in. Then came the snow, great flurries of it. We hid under the roof of the currywurst truck, and die Lüdde ate a really well rounded morning snack of pommes mit mayo and that dastardly ‘curry’ sauce. Then the sun came back out and we walked home.

A few hours later, we rugged up to go and visit a friend on the other side of town. Within five minutes of leaving the house and thinking dreamily of how lovely an afternoon stroll in the sun was going to be, the Schneeregen – snow rain, to those not familiar with the official Ghastly Weather Terms – began. Then it sort of became really mean snow that isn’t quite snow, but has upped the ante from Schneeregen and means you need to ideally find somewhere to wait it out. Like a bus shelter under which there is theoretically plenty of room, but none of the three people already occupying it particularly want to move. It ended a quickly as it began, and we pushed out from under the bus shelter, back onto the puddly paths. By the time we got across town, it was bright and sunny and I felt, even, a tad warm.

The sky has been belching all week, spewing out hail storms and snow flurries and Schneeregen, in between bouts of dazzling sun. It times its worst offerings for the moment we leave the house, fully bundled. Except for one hail storm, which poured down out of nowhere about five minutes before I was about to go outside. Felt really smug about that one.

The main thing is, winter is clearing out its belly, and should move along soon. Until it does, there are always memories of warmer climes and barefoot times, to tide us over.

To wit, the last photos of the steamy, tropical urban jungle that hosted us for a few weeks.












Recreating Charmed Afternoons

We have a fun, emerging tradition in our young family, that involves getting sick every time we fly to Asia or Australia. We avoid the lurgies doing the rounds in Kiel all winter, smugly hop on a plane bound for warmer climes, incubate some sort of bug in the germ vessels that are planes, and fall to pieces in the first few days after our arrival. We’re doing well this year – two quick tummy bugs for the adults and a nice little cold for die Lüdde, spread helpfully over two weeks. (I can’t complain; she dodged the colds and tummy bugs doing the rounds back home, and it took ten days of being around family members with colds of their own, for her to finally fold. Her bockig tendencies do have their benefits.)


Thus the other day was named a downtime day for die Lüdde and her snotty, bad-tempered nose, so while she stayed at home with Nana, we ducked out to the Arab Quarter for a charmed afternoon. While Chintatown and Little India have a sort of volume and relative chaos that is part and parcel of their vibe, Singapore’s Arab Quarter has a calmness to it, perhaps anchored by the lovely Sultan Mosque, its golden dome and grey spires seemingly always visible. Mosque Street itself, with its colourful shutters and palm trees, is lined by fabric and trinket shops, cafes, and Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants.


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We stopped for a late lunch at a Javanese restaurant on Arab Street. Spicy, coconut-rich beef Rendang, barbecued chicken satay, some sort of delicious fried potato ball, soup, and an iced tea. Across the road, we were unable to resist buying a couple of toys for die Lüdde from a strangely soulless toy shop. Then we skipped down Mosque Street, picked up a couple of souvenirs, before tripping into Haji Street, shopping bags swinging, spirits high. Haji Street is narrow and bright and bursting with such coolness, you can smell it. Vintage boutiques with Japanese dresses my left thigh woudn’t get near, hole in the wall cafes with spartan decor and donuts, burger places, a Mexican place, and enough lush green foliage to remind you you’re in the tropics.

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On the way back to the MRT station, we poked our heads down Bali Street – more spartan cafes and New York inspired bistros – and when we emerged from underground, walked home in a light, completely manageable shower. ‘Let’s do this again tomorrow!’ we said, ‘what a glorious afternoon!’

And so we returned the following afternoon, die Lüdde in tow. It began sprinkling as we arrived, and so we did the classic dash into the nearest restaurant, which happened to be the Mexican place. Usually this would be a thrilling statement to make, because Lord knows I love Mexican, and the place looked great. And, look, the food was fine, fresh and tasty, but the portions tiny, and it cost as much as our glorious and far more generous Javanese lunch the day before. Naja, you win some you lose some. We toddled back down Haji Street as the sky grew darker, the smallest of our trio dictating pace in the way only determined 18 months olds can, and soon after we exchanged die Lüdde’s car at the soulless toy shop for one that would retain its wheels longer than 12 hours, the heavens opened.



And it was a corker of a downpour. Not your classic ‘give it ten minutes and it’ll be over’ tropical shower, but a good, hour-long soaking. We sheltered for ten minutes under an awning before folding up die Lüdde’s Schirmbuggy, and stepping out. Despite getting utterly soaked, wading out turned out to be a good thing, because the rain didn’t stop until we got home, bedraggled and hungry – but with a new car.

So is there a moral to this plotless tale? Don’t attempt to step in the same river twice? Take golden, childless afternoons of chanced-upon delicious lunches when you can, and savour the memory? Don’t by toys in soulless toy shops? I shall leave you to ponder the numerous potential meanings.

Grüße aus Singapur

The plane from Dubai disgorged three grimy, overwrought, pale Kieler-Australians, the smallest of whom had closed her eyes for a total of 90 minutes over a 17 hour travelling period. Long haul with a toddler … sweet Lord. How much easier is carting them to the other side of the world when they a) fit in the baby bed b) alternatively, happily sleep on Mum and Dad c) aren’t mobile? We got a couple of short naps out of her, by hovering between the toilets, and singing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer directly into her overtired ears. And I managed to send a look laden with ‘be smug now, parent of immobile 7 month old who is wowing the flight with her perfect flight behaviour … mine did that too, and now look at us’ to a spritely looking father, jigging his sleep-refreshed baby around. But mostly it was, you know, a shocker. I began composing an article in my mind, somewhere over a vast ocean, one that gave truly helpful pointers on travelling with wilful toddlers, as opposed to ‘pack plenty of nappies and snacks!’ Tips like, ‘lower your expectations, lower them again, and then go in expecting even less than your lowest expectations.’



But we made it, and like childbirth, one forgets most of the horror of flying 14 hours plus layover with a 17 month old, particularly when there is the wilderness of jetlag to slog through. (As an aside, before I stop complaining about a brilliant trip to Asia, how much easier is jetlag with babies who wake up every 4 hours to eat anyway?) 14 hours is, by the way, only two thirds of the trip to Australia, and I began to wonder if I would ever actually fly to Australia again. I also began to wonder what life would be like if human beings came with an off button, that could be utilised when, for example, flying. Think of the endless possibilities of life, if we could simply temporarily turn humans off while we dealt with a situation.



Since arriving, and possibly sleeping less than we did when we had a newborn, and one of us contracting a short-lived tummy bug, oh and another one of us celebrating a birthday, it has been wonderfully hot and sticky, and our days filled with family and food. My brother and sister flew up from Sydney with their partners, and Mum had a full nest once more, from her eldest to the newest hatchling, who herself was completely thrilled by the constant presence of aunts, uncles, Nana and Pa. Completely thrilled and completely spoilt.

It is in the 30s everyday and tropically muggy. As a reptile, this is ideal for me. It is also ideal because I barely have to dress my child. No Hausschuhe or snowsuits here, only maximum a nappy for around the house, and a very light cotton frock for outside. No bibs when one eats almost or completely nude, only a swift wipedown at the end. The ease with which one leaves the house in hot weather, is a thing of beauty. Die Lüdde, who sprints in the opposite direction every time she sees you advancing with her winter coat, agrees. The only thing to consider is how much you’ll sweat, and whether you have an umbrella against the daily tropical downpour.



Chinese New Year is just around the corner and Singapore is laying out the sparkle. The lights in Chinatown are out, monkeys and red and gold adorn window displays, and all of the treats are in the shops (I personally have already eaten a bucket of pineapple tarts, for example). I will, at some point, drag my camera out and do a decent photo session with the CNY lights, but until then these rather mediocre phone snaps will have to do.

We have snuck in a couple of fantastic dinners as well, courtesy of inbuilt babysitters, including a delicious Peranakan dinner at the newly opened National Gallery. Of course Hawker stall food in Chinatown, and hot roti in Little India go alright as well. So does the neverending font of watermelon juice, or ginger and lemongrass tea, or lychee, or mango anything, whereever you are.




Little India is one of my favourite spots in Singapore, not just because of the food, although I do manage to make myself sick on mango lassis, and SG does manage to set his mouth on fire each time we go. But I love the colour, and the smell, and the easy bustle of it all.





So we have another ten days to go, Chinese New Year to ring in, and plenty, plenty more to see and eat. Aja, and how good is it that Angie Kerber won the Aussie Open! Heilige Makrele, what a match!

Chinese New Year – Take 2

From Chinatown to Marina Bay, the old to new. One a maze of little streets crammed with stalls, the other played out to the backdrop of sky-scraping glass that twinkled as the night fell. Both full of people and lights and colour, one just a whole lot shinier and sleeker than the other.




Down at Marina Bay, on what is usually a floating football field, was a huge display of lights and figures, above which pranced two tightrope walkers in natty silk suits. Whereas the soundtrack in Chinatown was voices selling wares over microphones, at Marina Bay music blared from a stage, crescendoing at appropriate moments in the tightrope walking routine.






For obvious reasons, Chinese food was on the menu last night, specifically, as someone at the Fullerton Hotel told us, a buffet. Sure, there were other restaurants around that were open (not many) but from what we could infer it seemed most open restaurants were partaking in a buffet, and so we followed suit.

Perhaps, after living in Germany long enough, I will be able to one day nail the art of the buffet. When I moved to Germany I had to completely rejig my thoughts on buffets (negative ones) because buffets, particularly of the breakfast kind, are somewhat inescapable in Germany. As it stands, I still do weird things with the first plate, wasting a perfectly good round. Last night I filled a plate with mixed leaves and for some God forsaken reason Caesar Salad dressing. And not just Caesar Salad dressing, but revolting amounts. I recovered, thankfully, in time to put my second plate to good use – buttery Roti and a black lentil Indian dish. Superb. I also nailed the dessert part of things. But that first plate weighed heavily on my mind. Buffets do that to you. You spend the whole digestion time thinking, ‘could I have done better?’




I think the key is, when Indian food is on offer, skip the bloody salad table.

Chinese New Year

We hopped a bus down to Chinatown tonight, just to soak in some of the Chinese New Year energy. Tomorrow is the first day of the year of the goat and it will be rung in with fireworks later tonight (for which I will be sound asleep) the culmination of several weeks of general celebrating. Much of the action has been and will be taking place in Chinatown and down by the water at Marina Bay, so this afternoon we checked out the former.


I uncovered Mum’s DSLR a couple of days ago (and took a million photos of die Lüdde and then promptly assaulted family with repeated Dropbox links) and lugged it out today. Few things photograph quite as well as bright lights against an evening sky.



Things heaved and pulsed precisely as much as I thought they would and it was messy and colourful and loud. Mum and I partook of a few white carrot cakes (possibly not carrot and definitely not cake) and bought little decorations and fairly outrageous miniature slippers.





I am a rat, and I read my forthcoming fortunes last time I was in Singapore. Appalling. I can expect poor health, poor finances, a poorly behaved husband, and generally a poor time of it during the year of the goat.

I am, however, remaining positive.


Happy Chinese New Year.