Tuesday 26 March 2013

A hare and a hundred eggs

In contrast to Christmas, which is widely embraced by Singaporeans, who will take any excuse for a shopping spree, Easter has never really made it big in Asia.
Yes, the expat shops stock up on chocolate eggs and bunny’s, and the popularity of Easter brunch, brunch being another favourite local activity, is on the rise. But that's about it.
In the international expat community Easter traditions vary widely. Last year I tried to explain our Dutch ones to a friend.

‘Painting eggs?’ my British girlfriend asks, intrigued. ‘How do you mean?’
‘Simple,’ I tell her, ‘you boil the eggs. And then you paint them. With water based paint, or felt tip pens. Or you boil them in special Easter egg paint.’
She shakes her head. ‘And what do you do with these eggs?’
‘On Sunday morning the Easter Bunny comes, or, actually, as we call it, the Easter Hare. It just sounds better.
I let her taste the sound of the word, ‘Paashaas’.

She smiles, and I continue, ‘He will hide the eggs, in the garden, or inside if it rains.’
Now she nods, understanding, Easter eggs hunts she knows. But the eggs are made of chocolate. Not of egg.
‘And what do you do with them, after?’
‘Well, you eat them, off course.’
‘Cold, hard boiled, and hidden eggs?’
She shudders. ‘You eat them?’
‘Sure. For breakfast. Or as a snack. For tea. Before dinner, or after. Late night. Whenever you feel like one. When we come back from a long walk on Easter Sunday we will all dash for the eggs. We eat them straight, out of our hands, with a pinch of salt.’
‘All hard boiled?’
‘Hard or soft,’ I explain, ‘my mother would colour code the eggs whilst boiling, and put details on a list. Yellow for soft, blue for hard, orange half soft, red half hard. And so on.’
She is flabbergasted. ‘And so on? How many do you eat?’
I hesitate. ‘Well. When I was young we used to paint a hundred. At least, often more. After Easter Monday breakfast they’d all be gone.’
With eyes wide-open she stares at me, stunned into silence.
‘But we had visitors too,’ I add. ‘Family. We always argued as the eggs were finished way too soon. And because your little brother would eat your favourite egg, the one you made an extra effort on, first.’
My friend is, suitably impressed.
I nod. I wonder, shall I admit my family is slightly eccentric, a bit mad. Shall I admit that not all Dutch families dye and eat a hundred eggs for Easter? That a dozen is the average?

‘To be honest,’ I start.
Across the room screaming starts. We sigh. We wander over, to where her daughter and my son roll in a violent embrace. When they are pulled apart, reprimanded and kissed, we get back to our tea. And our talk.

‘What were we talking about?’ she asks.
‘Easter,’ I say.
‘Ah yes. Have you finished your Easter Bonnets yet for the pre-school parade?’
Now it is my turn to look blank. For what on earth is an Easter Bonnet?

Thursday 21 March 2013

In the distance

We had a Dutch visitor, pale from winter. Sun was needed so we went to the beach. On the way, in the car, small drops splattered our windscreen. Staring at the sky we spied a touch of blue. We carried on.

To show our visitor, who only had one day, Singapore at a glance, we took the cable cars. The rain kept on dropping but in the distance blue kept gleaming so we parked the car, unloaded kids, towels, buckets and spades and divided ourselves under two big umbrella’s. Over Mount Faber’s ridge we walked to the cable car station. Tijm and Linde jumped in every muddy puddle. Only Jasmijn stayed dry under her buggy’s cover.

High and dry in the little eggs we admired the view. We saw the pointy skyline of Singapore’s Central Business District, with papa’s office on the sixtieth floor of the tallest tower. Deep below us the dark green of Mount Faber Park, with its scattering of black and white house where mama would love to live. Further on we count countless row of high-rise buildings. And more, as Singapore reaches for the sky. We saw the container port, with its cranes, where containers are stacked like flats in the HDB buildings.

In the distance, behind the clouds, the sea and resort Island Sentosa gleamed in the sun. Behind that, oil tankers, refineries, pretty or not, they provide Singapore’s as well as our own livelihood. And that of our visitor.

We sailed over a mall, a cruise ship, and a theme park, where we saw dolphins jumping, and kids floating trough slides in bright rubber bands, and then we arrived at our destination. Far away we could still see the blue. But on Sentosa it rained too.

We passed the Merlion, half lion, half fish, the Gaudi fountain, until we reached the beach. Tijm and Linde by now wetter than the sea. In the distance, above the sea, the sky was blue.

At the beach club COASTES, that looks like it’s on the coast of the cold North Sea, but with better food, where Dutch, French and British expats roam, it was busy. In the spitting rain children swam, their parents in the sand, under their umbrellas. The terrace, that is, the covered part, was full. We found a dry spot and Tijm and Linde and Jasmijn exchanged their wet clothes for their dry swimwear. Not long after, those were wet too.

We had a coffee, some lime juice, and looked at the sky. In the distance it remained blue. Every one stared with us, thinking it would clear, thinking we’ll endure. Tijm, Linde, Jasmijn and papa dived in the waves. They were wet already and the sea was warm.

Now and again the sky brightened, but the sun never came. One by one the families left. When the thunder roared, the sea, and not much later the terrace, emptied. We ate some fries and gave in.

With Tijm in a towel and Linde in my pareo we took the monorail to the cable car station. It dribbled. In the distance blue gleamed.

Thursday 14 March 2013

In the bus

Every morning she packs her bag, sticks her water bottle inside, and hoists it on her back. Together with Tijm and Linde she climbs down the stairs, sits her bag by the fence and plays. Scooting, cycling, running or chatting we wait, every morning, with all the neighbours and their kids, for our respective school buses. When we see the orange-white-blue Dutch school bus appear around the corner Tijm and Linde get their bags, their cool boxes, their bus passes and they board. Jasmijn follows. The bus auntie laughs, sits her in a chair. We laugh too, we wave. And, before the bus takes off, we lift Jasmijn out.

She was not yet two, she couldn’t go. She was furious.

Her birthday arrives, Jasmijn turns two. Jasmijn starts pre-school, two mornings a week. I drop her off. The first morning she clutches my leg, firmly. But I stay, and Jasmijn starts a jigsaw, turning to me after each piece, checking I am still there. When the gym class starts she can no longer resist, she runs and climbs, ignoring me proudly. The next day she waves to me at drop-off, bye mama, and runs off to play. When I come to pick her up she is walking in line, with the other kids, on their way to the buses, and I whisk her off just in time. The week after again she is ready, by the bus.

Now she was two, but she still couldn’t go. She was furious.

I drop her off in the car. Such a little girl, in such a big bus. In the Netherlands kids will cycle to school from an early age, but school buses are unheard of. A child’s comfortable level of independence is relative to what it’s parents know and trust. But there is more. I want to be involved, see and feel the school, chat to teachers and other mums, the things I miss with my older kids. I love to have the time to myself, not to spend half the day in the car, collecting my kids at those inconveniently different hours. But still. So independent, so young? I am not sure.

Jasmijn is. Two year olds are so extremely intense. Intensely annoying. Intensely cute. So small, yet so grown-up. Talking is toddler babbling, from half words to whole sentences, sometimes clear, sometimes frustratingly incomprehensible. Even though we do not always understand, Jasmijn knows exactly what she wants. Not to wear a nappy. Not to wear dresses but shorts. Tijm’s penguin. To watch Pippi Longstocking. She points, she shouts, she shoves, one way or another she makes sure we know what she wants. Large drops will spill from her eyes if she does not get it. The house will fill with cries, ten, twenty minutes if she must. She wants it, and she wants it now.

She wants to take the bus. So we give in, and she may. I never saw a toddler so happy, so proud, to board a bus. She waves at us from her window seat, next to big brother and sister. Papa and I, we wave back, we wave at the bus that takes our children away. Five, three and only just two years old.

A new start

How do you start after a blogging absence of nearly a year? Do you fill in the gaps, do you rewind and retell, or do you just plunge right in?

I think I will do the latter. My stories are snapshots or our lives, our new lives in our new country, and I think they speak for themselves. When you read them you will get to know us, me and my kids, either again or for the first time.

Tijm, who is now 5, a big boy, who has made many friends in his new big school and loves football, writing and plants. Linde, who can't wait to be 4 and start big school as well, who is still a princess, still blond as can be. Jasmijn, who is now 2 and as determined as ever, who never sits still.

A new start and a new name, don't worry, the old address still works, but I think my new name, Bedouin mama, or bedu-mama for short, suits me better as it reflects our nomadic lives. A camel in the tropics. It is weird. But I can tell you, it is also great!

Read with us and let me know what you think. I love responses, and if you write too let me know where I can find you so I can visit you back.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Time, or lack thereof...

Yes, I do wish to keep writing in English. Yes, I know there are people out there who love to read it.
But. I have so little time at the moment.
So bear with me. One day I will post again. I promise.

In the meanwhile, for those of you who read Dutch or want more information on me, please visit my blog, http://k-meel.blogspot.sg for up to date information about our new life in Singapore.