I miss guacamole (and America in general)

Sept162013We’ve been living in Singapore for nearly a month – 28 days to be exact – and 28 days later it feels like I survived a sort of apocalypse. The world as I know is gone and I am sorting out the new rules, people and places.

DISCLAIMER: While I don’t mean to complain, I am. Please skip this post if you were looking for positive vibes.

Right now, I feel more American than ever, but it’s funny that in the U.S. I put the identifier of Asian before American. I chose to live in Singapore as an experiment to explore identity, race and culture. To be honest, I’m uncomfortable being away from everything that I know to be a normal. It’d be disingenuous to say I am skipping on rainbows.

Moving Out & Moving In

While I’m grateful we had corporate housing, I’m also grateful we moved out two weeks ago. Lanson House was central with convenient buses, malls nearby and housekeeping, but it smelled like mildew. The apartment’s windows were sealed shut and we didn’t get much natural sunlight. It felt like a place in between places.

We moved out on September 4 during a sticky, humid downpour. I sat in the overly air conditioned cab as we left River Valley, the neighborhood of choice for many expats. We drove away from Central Singapore to the suburb of Geylang, which when you Google “Geylang Singapore” it’s all references to the red light district. While that is in the hood, I promise we don’t live near a brothel. It’s a big district. I swear.

The Neighborhood

We live across the street from what is said to be the best hawker center in Singapore the Old Airport Road Food Center. There’s also a local wet market, a MRT subway and a 24-hour Fair Price grocery store all within walking distance. We chose to live in a neighborhood that felt more authentically Singaporean outside of the expat community.

Eric and I shopped at the wet market and I’m so happy he was there. Most of the stall owners only spoke Mandarin, which Eric can speak conversationally, and the produce is Eastern vegetables that I don’t recognize. We managed to buy some fruits and vegetables but when shopping on my own, I’ll probably go to Fair Price.

Singapore prides itself on high standards for cleanliness, but when I saw the meat and fish on ice in the open-air stalls with flies and pigeons about, I just couldn’t. It doesn’t seem the most sanitary. I’m sure it’s fresh but I find safeness in the plastic wrapped meat from the grocery store.

The Food I Miss

I have another confession. I am SICK of eating Chinese food. I can’t taste another bite right now. The gravy and heavy sauces currently turn my stomach and I yearn for clean, fresh food from the Whole Foods salad bar. Who knew the day would come when I’d crave quinoa and kale salad?

Guacamole from Brickhouse I miss good Mexican food & guacamole, falafel wraps, hummus and grilled vegetables. Eric and I ate Asian food ALL the TIME in New York so I thought no problem moving to Asia but it’s all heavier, greasier and more flavorful in Singapore. In general, I don’t like eating salad but now I actually miss salad. Me miss salad!

I read that to be Singaporean is to be a foodie. I believed the hype about its amazing food scene, which is definitely cheap and readily available, but I’m at a point where it all tastes like “too much.” I have no choice but to learn how to cook Asian food if I am going to survive because Western groceries cost major money. A pint of Häagen daz ice cream is $25 SD ($19.83 USD) and six organic eggs cost $8 SD ($6.34 USD). Like I said, too much.

This is Not America

I don’t mean to go down the rabbit hole of “this is not America” but that’s where I’m at right now. It’s 28 days later and it’s sinking in that I do not live in America. I live in Singapore where my stomach needs to adjust and I don’t get the mannerisms.

I miss hearing “hello” from a cashier or friendly wait staff that seems like they actually want you in their restaurant. So far I went on two “friend dates” with two different Singaporean women who offered many tips about living here but both seemed aloof. I interpreted that they didn’t want to get to know me further, which could be my own insecurity, but I’m not imagining the cultural disconnect.

I grew up in the Midwest where people are polite, friendly and hospitable. In my limited experience, I’ve found some Singaporeans to be either cold or abrupt & pushy. At the wet market, two separate stall owners asked us how much we pay for rent and wouldn’t drop it when we didn’t want to share that information. I found it rude but Eric reminded me that we are the guests and this is the new normal.

Comfort in the Familiar

I suppose I’m learning why many expats are friends with other expats. Eric’s friend Rachel, who is a former New Yorker living in Shanghai, came to visit. She wanted to eat at the Little India hawker center and afterward we went to the department store Mustafa. We randomly found an entire section of American candy: Twix, Snickers, Milky Way, Kit Kat, Andes Mint Chocolates, M&Ms and Reese Pieces. Our shared excitement over seeing brands we both recognized made me feel less ridiculous. I didn’t felt judged and she was so easy to talk to and be around.

I don’t want to act like an ugly American in a foreign country, but I do find myself gravitating toward familiar scents, foods and people. We recently got fiber optic Internet and basic cable TV installed (hallelujah!) and as I flipped through the channels, I found Comedy Central Asia. I caught the beginning of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the episode where Stewart returns from hiatus. For thirty minutes I laughed and felt like I was at home.

I miss you New York. God bless the U.S.A.

Eric kisses Mai in New York

Eric and I share a kiss with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

With love,
Mai

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6 thoughts on “I miss guacamole (and America in general)

  1. Dude I feel you! You know what my dad said last week that really really hit me? “Sweetie, if you notice at all… Chinese food doesn’t serve anything FRESH, EVER!” (This was after my parents were in New York and I only fed them Chinese food ONCE!) It’s astonishingly SO TRUE. With Chinese food everything is either stir fried, or drenched in sauce… I don’t mean to blaspheme Chinese food (am I allowed? since I’m half Chinese, no? lol)… probably more perplexed than anything, because even the freshest veggie is steamed, not a single thing is served raw, or just fresh as it is… EVER! No wonder you miss salad 🙂

    I think Vietnamese food, is the perfect Asian food lol (I know I know, but it is!!!) because there’s always a yin & yang in the cuisine, cold and hot always plays against each other with each dish… hot food always serve with mountain fresh herbs, mints, basils, bean sprouts, even fried food like Banh Xeo, or Cha Gio is only meant to be eaten on a bed of fresh salad, veggie, cucumber, star fruit… So dude, don’t feel bad that you feel “American” I think what you miss most is the diversities, the melting pot of different culture/cuisines… miss the choice to eat different cuisines each night of the week, or even month and never have to repeat, isn’t that what make New York GREAT?

    I think that is probably why we travel… I love traveling, who doesn’t. But the key of traveling isn’t just about seeing new things, new culture, meeting new people, trying new food, doing things that no matter how much you read about it, how much you see on TV/in movies can ever replace… It’s not just an eyeopener of new places and cultures, but also an eyeopener of your OWN city. It’s the privilege of coming home and realize how much you LOVE your own city still, and that you’re glad you call it your hometown! I have never came back to New York without thinking “HOLY FUCK I MISS THIS DUMP” lol

    I know soon you’ll embrace Singapore, make everything works, get creative, and whip up meals that you’ll love even if your heart belongs to New York 🙂 Good luck dude, and thanks for updating.

    New York City, and us… we miss you guys!

    • F.Lo I felt pretty self-conscious after I hit “publish” because I don’t want to be a cry baby that doesn’t appreciate this awesome opportunity. However, my Chinese food aversion surprised me because I thought I’d adjust to the food just fine. You’re right that Vietnamese is the perfect Asian food. I ate it several times and I’m ALWAYS satisfied. It’s fresh, delicious and like you said balanced. I should have paid you for private cooking lessons before I skipped town. Update thecrawmama.com with all your secrets!

      Thanks for sending encouragement. Now that I have Internet and a home base I will figure out where to learn yoga and swimming (and probably take cooking classes too!) I haven’t created a framework for meeting people so that’s why it’s been a little harder for me to connect.

      Keep NY amazing while we’re away. Miss you guys too.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences thus far. I’m sure the adjustment is a major one, and there are many many bumps in the road. But hang in there, because you will fall into a groove, make friends, find your sweet spots that will make you feel more like a local, and it all will get better. I don’t say that out of a ton of knowledge — the longest I’ve ever been in a different country is 3 months. But just want you to feel encouraged and know that you’ve got someone like me (who’s a future expat) rooting for you! Oh, and yeah, whenever I travel, doesn’t matter where, I totally miss Mexican food the most!!! Good luck and hang in.

    • Jillybean besides the food, yes, making new friends is a tough one. Sometimes I get tongue-tied around new people and I’m not sure if they’ll get my sense of humor. I have to get over myself and just be myself, right? I’m homesick right now and missing creature comforts like my bed. I’m sure once our stuff arrives our new apartment will feel more like home. Thanks for the kind words.

    • Hi Wyndham. Thanks for both offers but no need to FedEx guacamole. I’ll keep exploring and I’m bound to meet other women who are in a similar place that I’m at right now. Like attracts like, right?

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