Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Portrait of a Mom

An Audrey Hepburn meets Alice in Wonderland type of Mom.
The kind who believes in fairy tales and the magic of snow. The kind voted best dressed in high school but who also bought her own presents as a child so she would have something to unwrap on Christmas day. The kind who made every holiday a special event with baked cakes, basted turkeys, and pine cone decorated trees. The kind who always made hot chocolate and sent you on trips with a little extra money and a note to read later.
The kind who made motherhood seem like a cinch: whipping up impromptu meals for large groups of people, wrapping up presents at the speed of light, dressing up to go out leaving behind a faint scent of Chanel n.5. The kind who has her grandchildren call her Bronte, who is impossible to say goodbye to on the phone, who suggests Witch Hazel or Bengay (sometimes both) as a solution to most problems.
The kind who greets disparate news with the exact same wide-eyed look of disbelief: "You're moving to Singapore?" "You're not wearing a scarf?" "You're cooking?"
Not always the best organizer: "But Signora, the bus you chartered to bring the group to the airport has less seats than people...Isn't that a map of San Francisco? I thought we were going to New York...We've been assigned to sleep in rooms with random people. " (Good news for some, less for others.)
Not always the best at boosting confidence: "Don't worry, you'll be beautiful at sixteen. What's that? You are sixteen. Well, that's odd. Fingers crossed for seventeen."
Not always the most discerning: "If you're not going to eat that perfectly fine piece of cheese on your hospital tray, I will."
Not always the most trustworthy: "Purple corduroy is all the rage. Your friends will be jealous."
Not always the most reliable: "Childbirth? A cakewalk. You were born before I knew it."
Not always conventional : Mom, isn't it 4 am where you are? "Yeah, I just felt like chatting."
But always, no matter what...our biggest fan. Thank you, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ten Things I Learned at My Son's Swim Meet

Dragons Den 2016, UWCSEA EAST 

Over the weekend, I watched my son compete in Dragons Den, a yearly International Swim Meet held at UWCSEA EAST with swimmers coming as faraway as Thailand and Japan. As expected, the swimming was unbelievable, the coaches amazing, and the spirit second to none. However, as I sat nine hours straight under the sun each day, there were a few things I learned. Mostly about myself.

1) Watching a swim meet in Singapore is the closest I will ever come to participating in an extreme sport.
2) Singapore swim meets are grueling, stamina building, heatstroke defying tests of endurance...and the swimmers have it pretty tough as well.
3) Like real estate, location is key. If possible, avoid sitting behind the guy with the whistle or microphone. Likewise, the overzealous mom who sounds like she wishes she were in the pool swimming alongside her child.
4) Bring an advil. At some point, you will need one.
5) After sitting for so many hours on a metal bleacher, you will lose all feeling in the bottom half of your body.
6) Thanks to the humidity, your hair will frizz to new heights and your clothes will stick not only to you but to the person next to you.
7) Bringing a newspaper to the meet, may have sounded like a good idea at some point.
8) Only wear suede shoes and sit ringside at a pool, if you want to test how good you are at anger management.
9) Jump up to cheer only if you don't have a cup of very hot coffee in your hand.
10) You are watching some of the best young swimmers in South East Asia, some are even headed to the Olympic trials. So sit back and enjoy yourself. Just remember there are no backs on bleachers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Things We Remember

I remember moving to Verona from South Carolina. Having a southern accent, not liking the taste of Italian milk, or the different way meat was cooked. Not seeing well but nobody noticing I needed glasses.
Spending recess alone at the school library reading. Not being allowed to go on sleepovers.
Watching the series "Roots" in the darkened cafeteria while it snowed outside.
Going home after school and reading instead of doing homework. Always reading. I remember walking to drama class on my own and an old man sticking out his tongue at me in a strange way.
I remember walking home in the dark to a warm house with delicious smells coming from the kitchen.
I remember creating a makeshift post office in the house and writing all of the letters myself. Hearing arguments because my older brother wanted a vespa and my parents didn't want him to have one. The sound of a piano playing all afternoon. My great aunts laughing at one of my stories.
Now that I have a daughter who is the same age I was then, I wonder what she will remember? Will it be the apple slices I put every day in her lunch box? The goodbye hugs before boarding the bus, the ride to school sitting next to her big brother? The evening I mentioned I was home cooking dinner instead of being at a fancy movie gala sipping champagne and she answered, without missing a beat, that that was my choice. The quick wittedness of which I begrudgingly admired, wishing I had been so logical as a child.
Or will her deepest memories have nothing at all to do with me. After all, what are apple slices and hugs when compared to being chosen for a school team, invited to a party, or told someone has a crush on you.
What I do know is that as I cut the apples, tie the pony tails, and listen to the science reports, I am the one who is already reminiscing, looking back on these days, and feeling, what the poet Jorge Luis Borges called, nostalgia for the present.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

When Visitors Come to Singapore

Yes, the sun rises and sets the same time all year round in Singapore.
My brother Stephen and his family just returned to London after a whirlwind vacation here in Singapore. Although when you're travelling with three small boys, I think the appropriate term is "working holiday'" and not vacation. Now that the house is silent and we can put the good china out again (just joking...that was the good china), here are some things I noticed visitors do when coming to Singapore.

1) They spend a lot of time either at the pool or talking about how they could be at the pool.
2) They think visiting temples in the midday sun is an acceptable plan.
3) They question the quality of jade souvenirs bought in Chinatown.
4) They are happy it's so sunny outside. Even when they are outside.
5) They go to Sentosa. A lot. Definitely more than is recommended.
6) They research and visit places you have yet to go to: Artscience museum, for example. This might make a lesser person feel guilty. I am not that person. Especially if they take the kids with them.
7) They spend 9 hours at the zoo. In fairness, the Singapore zoo is very cool and the only zoo I know of that doesn't keep the animals in cages. Still, 9 hours! Then again, this could be just my brother known for his freakish stamina on very few hours of sleep. I don't think my own kids have ever been out that long in one day. When spending the day out with Stephen, a medical certificate or basic training is advisable.
8) They drink a lot of coffee but not nearly as much water. The concept of dehydration in the tropics hasn't really sunk in.
9) They appreciate a good masala dhosai breakfast in Little India. Even if the place looks a bit dodgy.
10) Upon arrival, the humidity doesn't wreak as much havoc with their hair as you would expect, nor the jetlag with their mood, but that could be from the elation at having survived a 13 hour flight with a toddler.

We miss you guys!

Breakfast with the Orangutans...just the beginning.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Some Impressions on Myanmar: the Country Formerly Known as Burma

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun

1) If you live in Singapore, seeking respite from the heat in Myanmar is not a great idea as it is roughly 40 degrees celsius there. And April is the hottest month. Something to think about when planning Spring break.

2) When visiting pagodas, go in the early morning or late afternoon as you need to remove shoes and socks. Those black tiles are unforgiving on the bare soles of your feet. Unless you are auditioning for a Bollywood movie, jumping up and down is not an attractive look.

3) Public buses do not have air conditioning and the number of occupants allowed is more of a recommendation than a legal requirement. On the upside, when it comes time for the driver to signal for a turn, that extra person nearly flying out the passenger seat with flailing arms comes in handy.

4) It's hard to make definite plans as traffic can be atrocious. I'll see you in twenty minutes can easily turn into two hours. Useful when gauging the strength of relationships, less so when making dinner reservations.

5) Now that the military junta has been officially disbanded, the country is optimistically being led to democracy by Aung San Suu Kyi, finally freed from house arrest. The hope is that while allowing for much needed foreign investment, beautiful Myanmar keeps its traditions and landmarks. Resisting, for example, the temptation to surround the spectacular Schwedagon Pagoda (pictured above) with modern condos boasting a temple view.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Burmese Days. In the footsteps of George Orwell.

Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Young monk at the pagoda

Colonial look in Yangon, former capital of Myanmar

One of the many shrines to Buddha

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How To Lose 10 Kgs in 1 Hour in Singapore...Bubble Soccer!

"Oh she comes!"
"Way better than normal soccer."
"I never sweated so much in my life."

Some friends say I'm not the adventurous type. As if eating my own cooking isn't adventurous enough...So tired of all the mocking, this weekend I threw caution to the wind and consulted a brand new start-up here in Singapore, highly recommended by a friend. It's kind of like Uber but for hobbies and activities. Word of warning: if you let your 14 year old son choose you might end up with something called Bubble Soccer, simply put there is no quicker way to lose weight in the tropics. And heat stroke is a distinct possibility. Then again, it's could get heat stroke walking to the grocery store. And if you let your son do the bubble soccer along with seven of his pals, you can grab a coffee and watch. They will thank you profusely as they change out of their sweat drenched shirts and you will have the perfect excuse to choose the wine tasting instead. Win-win.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

It's Never Too Late...To Have Your Child Live Out Your Dreams

Eliot with wonderful Head Coach Amy Brooks
Ever since I watched as a kid old footage of a young Nadia Comaneci score a perfect 10 at the Olympics, I have been fascinated by gymnastics. In fact, it has been a secret passion of mine. So it was with joy and trepidation that I watched my daughter try out for the team at her new school. From the moment she donned her outfit, she was hooked. And her passion and confidence (not just in gymnastics but in all areas) has soared. She may not be the next Comaneci but a Mom can dream...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Moving to Singapore?

It's a jungle out there!
(Warning: this blog post contains useful information.)

Many people write to me asking for advice before making the big move to Singapore. One of their biggest worries (rightly so) is where to live. High rise condo vs. landed house? East Coast vs. Sentosa? Since this is clearly one of the most important factors determining your entire stay, my advice is speak to an expert. My mom is pretty good but since she lives in Italy, I would advise you seek the next best thing: Greyloft:
Unlike other real estate agencies, Greyloft doesn't just list properties but provides an end to end, bespoke lay terms, they literally hold your hand through what can be a very emotional and stressful time. They even know where to eat killer dumplings between property views. That's the type of inside information I am looking for.
So, good luck and happy househunting!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How To Build a Reputation

Is this Mental Math?
Against my better judgement and with the hope of not reliving too many childhood traumas, this morning I attended the Math workshare Eliot's fourth grade class was holding for parents. The very first classmate I met looked surprised to see me: "Eliot told us you didn't want to come because you're not good in Math..." Word gets around fast I see.
Where's Shakespeare when you need him?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Distance is a State of Mind

Last night, my little brother Julian played a sold out concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I wasn't there...but it really felt like I was. (

As expats, we don't think of distance in strictly geographical terms, by necessity we come to see distance as a mental state of mind. Often sad about the weddings, the baptisms, the graduations we are forced to miss, we eventually discover with surprise things we would never have realized had we not moved away in the first place: a closeness with our adult siblings that we never had when we lived under the same roof. A stronger desire to spend time with our parents than those people who live just down the street from theirs. We have the ability to gauge with newfound clarity old friendships, the ones we had since we were kids. Are they based on something more than sharing the same zip code? Distance helps one gain perspective and appreciation. And that is not something you can just buy with air miles.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Way Back When

I Vitelloni
I just got this photo from my Dad (the man on the right wearing a beret) who attended last weekend the 80th surprise birthday party of his childhood friend Pierino (pictured in the center). On the far left, is his best friend Giancarlo, a philosopher and lover of books who lauded Somerset Maugham and the importance of eating pizza while still hot. This photo reminds me of Federico Fellini's masterpiece, I Vitelloni, which details one year in the life of five adolescents who pass their days dreaming of escaping life in a small seaside town. The story is semi-autobiographical and the only one who ends up leaving is Fellini himself who becomes a famous director in Rome. Like Fellini, my Dad was the only one of his friends who left his childhood home. A reality shared by expats who eventually come to the bittersweet realization that while you can never go home again... old friends are there when you do.