Sunday, December 22, 2013

Big Year For a Blog...Happy Holidays!!

Alexander, do you think I've been photoshopped?! "Obviously." (photo Expat Living Singapore)

Wow, my very first photo shoot. Thank you, Verne Maree, Ken Tan, and Expat Living Magazine for the incredible feature but most of all...for making me look so good. Let me say one thing straightaway,  I am strongly opposed to photoshopping. I think it intentionally misleads the reader into thinking people look a lot better than they do in real life. Unless, of course it's me being photoshopped. Then, I'm all for it. In fact, I now carry this photo with me wherever I go, just to remind people how good I could know, if I really tried. Forget expensive creams and make-up, I say let's bottle this up and put it under the Christmas tree. Eau de photoshop...just a whiff and all pores disappear. Way better than a nespresso machine.
Happy holidays and a big thank you to each and every one of you for reading, commenting, and sharing this blog. If it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't be in a glossy magazine on the newsstands.  Just one thing, if you happen to meet me in the next few days, please be kind and knock that shocked look off your face.
It's expensive to have a lighting crew follow you everywhere (I've looked into it).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Not The Cheapest Dates...

"Why can't we have two pizzas?"

Hmmm, because we're at Raffles Hotel...and the royalties haven't kicked in yet?
These kids are always hungry. And at the most inconvenient times. Fifteen minutes before uncle Julian's piano concert at Raffles, seriously? Maybe it just seems that way, now that they've started their three week school holiday. I purposely give them a huge, late breakfast explaining the concept of brunch, only to hear Alexander ask (as he eats his third pancake and sausage): "What are we having for lunch?"
For those expats who are staying in Singapore during the holidays, one word of advice: keep snacks handy on all outings. And, do not go to the ice skating at Ribena Bay Sands (how Eliot calls Marina Bay Sands). We discovered yesterday that they close the ice skating rink during the Christmas holidays...because that makes perfect sense. Here are some things you can do:
Good luck!

Monday, December 16, 2013

"The Pleasure's in the Missing."

"It's how many pages?" 
"Can't help but think that the pleasure's in the missing."
These words, in Eleanor Catton's Man Booker prize winning book "The Luminaries," are uttered by one of the main characters, Thomas Balfour. The story is set in 1866,  New Zealand and he's referring to those seeking their fortune in the goldfields of New Zealand and to those running away from their past. "Can't help but think that the pleasure's in the missing." Surely these words could be uttered by a great number of expats, not only here in Singapore but everywhere.

"Most boys keep one foot on the boat, you know. Head back as soon as they've made their dust...-and then what do they dream about? ...They dream about the diggings! Back when they could hold the colour in their hands! When all they did here was talk about home. Their mothers. Yorkshire puddings. Proper bacon. All of that....England-that's the old country. You miss the old country. Of course you do. But you don't go back."

For more on nostalgia, see also

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Welcome to Singapore!

"I think I have to be somewhere..."

My little brother Julian (he's the one not wearing a school uniform) is back in Singapore for two piano concerts, if you're in town be sure to catch him either Dec.11th at the Arts House or Dec. 12th at Raffles Hotel,-12-dec-2013/247581125402722.
...that's if he finishes helping with the Math homework.

I fully expected to be the one helping the kids in English but if I have to help them in Math too...well, that's just wrong. And with the 'Math parent' on a business trip, there's no better time for a visit from family. Forget bringing visitors to the Singapore flyer or shopping on Orchard Road., why not have them help the kids with homework instead?
And I'm not just doing this for me, it's supposedly the best jetlag cure ever!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Foolproof Ways To Discipline Your Child

"You go, you go first."

1) Friending them on Facebook. 
In order for this to be truly effective, the parent must likecomment, and share every single thing the child posts. Bonus points for using acronyms.

2) Learning all the words to their favorite song...and singing it. 
Over and over again. Works best if you can't carry a tune or you use body gestures. Extra points if they have a friend over.

3) Wearing their school uniform for Halloween. 
On the plus side, you don't have to spend money for your costume. On the downside, your child might need therapy later on.

4) Watching television with them. 
Remember to offer non-stop commentary while eating snacks.

5) Refusing to buy them a new fencing sword.
Even though it means the shorter blade length will put them at a disadvantage during duels. Short blades build stamina.

6) Leaving post-its in their lunch box.
Remember notes should always be signed. Love, Mommy will do. Drawings of flowers and hearts optional.

7) PDA (Public Display of Affection)
A real crowd pleaser. Plenty of big hugs. Especially before boarding the morning school bus. Blowing kisses also acceptable.

8) Cutting their hair.
Why waste a perfectly good home-cutting kit you got at a garage sale and you've been dying to try out?

9) And finally, making them wear corduroy. 
This one is for you, Mom. What can I say? Thanks. There's a reason I had no friends in the fourth grade. (I like to think it was the corduroy...the sweater vests didn't help either.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Time Management Skills

Alexander's birthday party time table. If only he spent this much attention to detail on his homework.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

10 Questions to An Expat: Giacomo Galtarossa

"Daddy, I want mine al dente."

1) Hello Giacomo, how long have you lived here and what do you do?
I have lived in Singapore a little over four years. I started my own artisanal gelato company, but after it was bought by Pastamania, I became brand chief and head of their Italian Affairs Division.

2) Sounds delish (as my daughter would say). Where are you from originally?
Verona, Italy.

3) What brought you here?
My wife Claudia and I came here on our honeymoon and liked it very much.  We always wanted to make Asia our home.

4) What do you to in your spare time?
What spare time? With four kids (Felipe, Maria Teresa, Alberto, and baby Caterina) there isn't much of that. But we do like to go to Legoland in Malaysia.

5) What do you like best about Singapore?
How helpful people are.

6) Least?
I miss the change of seasons.

7) Never leave the house without?
A good idea of where to go.

8) Best weekend trip?

9) Interesting fact people don't know about you?
I hold the high altitude record in sky diving in South America: 33,000 ft. I was part of a Venezuelan Army team.

10) And what advice would you give someone who is about to move here?
Relax and enjoy your time here. As an entrepreneur, I would say choosing the right location is key.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

If Emily Dickinson Had Lived in Singapore

"How dreary to be somebody..."

1) Instead of living in rural Massachussets, she would have lived in Sembawang.
2) Instead of writing: "I'm nobody, who are you?" She would have written: "I'm an expat without about you?"
3) Instead of: "Hope is the thing with feathers." She would have written: "Hope is the taxi with a green light."
4) Instead of themes of death and immortality, her poetry might have dealt with mould and humidity.
5) And that feeling of a funeral in her brain, might have just been a headache due to dehydration.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here Come The Brits!

Never leave the house without your burkhini!

"Her first book has turned into an overnight success." Anne-Marie Parnell of the British Association Magazine in Singapore.

As my friend Kath would say: I am chuffed!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Defining Irony

You wrote about capital punishment and caning? Then, you've got to ask yourself:
"Do I feel lucky?"

The dictionary defines irony as the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. In order to better illustrate this point, here are 10 recent, real life scenarios:

1) A local newspaper publishes a random excerpt from Diary of An Expat in Singapore. Funnily enough, they choose the most controversial bit. It's okay, I've got my valise ready. "It was a good run. Really liked those dumplings."

2) Being chosen as key note speaker at a business conference for entrepreneurs after approaching them for marketing tips. Quickest promotion ever. You can't make this stuff up.

3) Worrying that people I wrote about in the book would be offended. The only people offended were the ones not mentioned. "What, you had nothing bad to say about Americans in the Politically Incorrect Expat Profiling chapter? As an American, I find that offensive."

4) Adding your book to a popular reader website because a friend recommends it as a good way of getting publicity. Not for the fainthearted.

5) Your Dad liking the book but also compiling a list of mistakes/unclear points he wants to go over with you next time he sees you. Sudden flashbacks to those, oh so joyous times, when he tried teaching you to tell time in the first grade. (The fact that after looking at the clock you randomly guessed: "Two? Three-thirty? Five?" didn't help).

6) Post-publishing book placement. Business? If you say so. Biography? Possibly. Military Highlights? I'm going to have to go with no.

7) Singaporeans telling you they really liked your book...after everybody has already left the book launch. Flattering yet slightly mystifying. I guess you didn't hear when the question "Do Singaporeans like your book?" came up. Repeatedly.

8) Random people sharing with you their ideas for a book. (Thanks, but newsflash, I'm the author not the publisher.)

9) Receiving the most awesome feedback ever: "I feel like I know you." But also getting asked: "Would you ever consider...(What? Being on TV? Having my own talk show?)...helping my son with his SAT's?"

10) Relatives still waiting for their free copy. "I have no free copies. I would actually have to buy it for you." (Sure, you would. We'll just wait.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Perks of International Day

Viva l'Italia
1) You get to see where your child thinks they are from.

2) You get to find out where their friends really are from.

3) A soccer jersey is a totally acceptable outfit (gondola get-up being difficult to assemble at that hour in the morning).

4) You get to watch chinese students, visiting your kid's school from Beijing, sing and dance on stage to Justin Bieber songs. They're surprisingly good.

5) Your son's creativity is tested. "Hmmm, I don't have anything specifically 'Italian' to wear.  I know, I'll just dress really, really well."

6) Cultural stereotypes are encouraged: "What Jen, no pizza this year?"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Perks of Having a Baby

Scenes of yesteryear: Alexander, fifth member of the Beatles,
holding baby sis Eliot, hailing from a Peruvian flute band

In the words of Anne Lamott: "Having a baby is like getting the world's worst roommate, " but there are also many perks. Okay, full disclosure, not that many. But there are some perks. This is not an oxymoron or the title of a new science fiction series. You just need to recognize them as such.

1) For example, you get to discover what it feels like to be vomited on.
2) You're less fussy about food. Since you no longer have the energy to breathe, let alone cook, your dinner is now disgusting looking baby food that even the baby doesn't want to eat.
3) You realize the importance of the little things. In other words, baby wipes and goldfish crackers.
4) The sense of accomplishment you feel, the first time you get that darn romper with all the snaps on, is priceless. Even the baby might begrudgingly give you a look of admiration: "Okay, you did it. I'll give you that. But what about my diaper, smarty pants?"
5) You are truly in touch with your emotions. You now dread things you never thought you'd dread. "You don't understand, that was his favorite pacifier. He'll notice the difference."
6) Admiration for others. "He's not a baby. He's an evil genius."
7) That college class in semantics pays off. After the tenth time you wake up during the night, to put the pacifier back in his mouth you fully appreciate the expression: "Just shoot me now."
8) Watching Mary Poppins and The Aristocats is part of the job description. Toddlers are creatures of habit so choose wisely that first movie, lest you spend a year watching men dressed as bananas in pyjamas.
9) You get to gauge your index of resistance should you ever be captured by a terrorist cell. Sleep deprivation being one of the most common forms of torture.
10) And finally, you get to find out what's playing on TV at 4:00 am. Not much, unless you're interested in Alaskan crab fishing. Strangely addictive, at least for me.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Best Thing About Being a Girl

Alexander enjoying the odds (7 yr old beauties from left: Jessica, Eliot, Maddie, and Sienna)

Best thing about being a girl brought to you by a 'totally random' group of 7 yr old girls.
(With such self-confidence at 7, it's a mystery that only 20% women hold a political office...but that's another blog.)

1) It's kind of embarrassing to be a boy....because boys can't spin around.

2) If girls wear a bracelet that's not really nice...they still actually look nice.

3) We're really talented at drawing.

4) We're pretty no matter what.

5) We can wear everything we want: pants or dresses.

6) I feel sorry for people who are boys because they get into fights.

7) You don't get hurt as much when you're a girl.

8) Girls are pretty powerful.

9) Oh yeah, girls rule...boys drool.

Sibling Matters

"Can I watch you play Minecraft?" Of course, you can.

"You know,  Alexander. I went on a bike with Daddy in the real world."

What do you mean, Eliot...the real world?

"You know, not the sidewalk. The street, where there are cars."

Friday, November 1, 2013

On Cultural Integration

"7 is a good age to be," by Eliot (last day as a 7yr old)
Lately, I've been asked a lot about the differences between Singapore and Italy; and in particular, about cultural integration. As usual, it's the kids who have the best answers.

1) Eliot, what do you think is the best thing about being an expat kid?
"I forgot, what does expat mean again?"

2) What is the best thing about living in Singapore?
"My friends and my family."

3) What is Singapore like?
"It rains there."

4) What is Italy like?
"It snows there."

5) Have you seen the snow there?

6) Are the people different in Singapore compared to those in Italy?
"Yes. They wear short-sleeves because it is hot. But in Italy they wear long sleeves."

7) Do you do different things in Italy compared to Singapore?
"Yes. In Italy, I don't do swimming. In Singapore, I do swimming."

8) Finish this sentence to an Italian friend: You should come to Singapore because...
"Because it's fun, you can have a big pool, and there are so much fun places to go Legoland in Malaysia."

9) Have you gone to Legoland in Malaysia? "No."

10) Finish this sentence to a Singaporean friend: You should come to Italy because...
"Because it's can do stuff and there's a beach. Verona is nice because it snows and you can see the mountains from there."

11) Do you prefer the food in Italy or in Singapore?
"In Singapore because they have curry noodles."

12) And finally, is it easier to be Italian or Singaporean?
"Singaporean, because you get to speak English."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Second Place is Just Right

If somebody had to bump Diary of An Expat in Singapore from first place, I am glad it was Malala, the brave girl who survived being shot in the head on a school bus for standing up to the Talibans. No surprise really, what do I stand up for? Durian, laksa, and Singlish.  Culturally important, but not the same thing. Anyway, I just finished her book and strongly recommend it.
On the other hand, a bio about the Kardashians might have hurt.

It's All Relative

"She's way lighter than my book bag."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Last Day of School Holidays

"I really need a subscription to the Nat Geo magazine."

I love this photo by Steve McCurry of an unforgettable Afghan girl.
In honor of Alexander's last day of school holidays, we went to see the National Geographic 50 Greatest Photos exhibit at the Artscience Museum (Marina Bay Sands). Besides the photo above, there are 49 other great photos and remarkable stories behind those photos. You're still in time to see it...but just barely (it closes on the 27th October), so go now!
More on Alexander's long school holiday in anther post. In the meantime, if you're strapped there's always this all time favorite

Selective Memory

"Can we come here every day?"
"I miss Verona."

Of course, Eliot. I understand. It's the downside of expat life. What do you miss? Your grandparents? Friends? The breezy walks along the river? The pizza, the gelato?

"No, I miss that place where we can stand and the wind pushes our clothes up in the air."

For an older post on nostalgia, you can check:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Radio Rebel

'Yes, we always publish a photo for our website."

Lesson learned this morning: Always go to the hair salon before an interview...even for one that's just on the radio.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How To Have a Ten Steps

1. Choose a catchy title that has readers guessing.
"So is it like Bridget Jones Diary...but set in the tropics?"

2. Write about what you know.

3. Do not offend anybody.
Optimistic editor: "You'll be fine."

4. There's no such thing as bad publicity.
"I said what?!"

5. Engage your kids in publicity stunts (if you do not have kids...consider renting them).
"Mommy, I'm tired." 

6. Choose your neighbors wisely.
"Wasn't Malala just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize? Look the guy who does Top Gear."

7. It never hurts to have friends in high places.
"Way better than The Hunger Games."

8. Do not use the book launch as an excuse to wear flashy clothing.
"But they're from Dubai."

9. When the going gets in the team with swag.
"How many copies do we have to sell before we can play Call of Duty?"

10. Publishing Date Matters
"Thank God, it's not the week Schwarzenegger's bio came out."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anatomy of a Playdate

"Are there rules at your house, Eliot?" Only when my Dad's home.

So this is how I find out...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Not What I Expected When I Started This Blog...

Okay, pinch me now!
Hope you can make it this Saturday, October 19th at Kinokuniya (Takashimaya) at 4 pm!!
Looking forward to meeting you and answering your hard-hitting questions!!

It's All Relative

"So did you get bigger, Alexander...or did I get smaller?"

So Eliot, how is school going?
"Well, I'm not good at Spelling, I'm not good at Chinese and I'm not good at Math...but I am really good at dodging balls."
That's actually a really good talent to have, Eliot.

This was supposed to be the photo accompanying the post about Alexander's return from his school trip: but the photo of the canoes at dawn was just too beautiful to pass up. Happy Weekend everybody!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Scenes From Sibu

After the rave reviews for the photo in the last post about Alexander's kayaking school trip in Malaysia:
I asked the man behind the lens, Mr. Martin Spreckley (7th grade mentor, scientist, and photographer extraordinaire), if he would kindly let us print some more. Did somebody say National Geographic Explorer Competition? Just remember you saw them here first:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Signs Your Kid's School Trip Is Different From The Trip You Took As A Kid

Kayaking at dawn in Sibu, Malaysia (photo Martin Spreckley)

1) It's not a school trip. It's an expedition.
2) It lasts five days, requires a passport, and is to a place you never even heard of until recently.
3) There are no visits to museums, art galleries, or churches.
4) You fasten mosquito bracelets on his ankles before sending him off.
5) Your son needs to bring a head torch for night time kayaking.
6) He uses it.
7) The stuff he packs is what you assume Bear Gryllis needs when filming "Man vs. Wild:" energy bars, water shoes, long sleeve rash vest, mosquito repellent, short finger cycling gloves, water proof slicker, and high factor sunscreen.
8) He corrects you more than once: "It's not stuff. It's called gear."
9) That gear costs more than all the school trips you ever took put together.
10) His buddy brings along birthday cookies and homemade sandfly repellent. 120 bites later, they realize they both forgot to use it.
11) He doesn't like your suggestion of writing a detailed description about the trip. "While it's still fresh."
12) He sums up the trip with one word: "Awesome."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Dressed To Kill

"I hope there aren't crocodiles."

So Eliot what was the best part of your trip to the River Safari?
"My partner on the bus."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's All Happening...Kinokuniya Here We Come

I just wish I could tell the 9 year old me: "Even though nobody showed up on your birthday today-well, one girl but the table settings and goodie bags were 14 and you suspect it was because the cool girl convinced the rest of the class to give it a miss...don't worry. Life is going to get so much better. Just remember this: when life throws you lemons...make lemonade."
Or, in my case, get out a notebook and pen and write about it.

Looking forward to seeing you all and answering your hard-hitting questions, on Saturday, October 19th at 4 pm @ Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store.

Dreaming of Bali

On a rainy day in Singapore, it's nice to dream of Bali...and more specifically Ubud...(No sign of Julia Roberts or Javier Bardem). In other news, a list of must-see films and must-see books is in the making (aka best way I know to procrastinate)...what were your favorites this year?

"What exactly is beef rendang?"

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Three Toothless Beauties

Three toothless beauties hoping the tooth fairy comes to Singapore.

Eliot: "I am not going to kiss any boys ever...just give them a high five."
What? Not even one kiss? You have to kiss on your wedding day.
"Well, on that day, I am going to put on fake lips."
That's actually a good idea, but where are you going to find them?

It's not easy being seven...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My New BFF Lives in Bhutan!

Not just a book for expats in Singapore...apparently it's all the rage in Bhutan! 

A huge thank you for all those of you who believed in a new, unknown author and went out and bought the book. I am totally overwhelmed to discover that my book is still #1 at Kinokuniya in pop culture category!!
Looking forward to my official book launch there next month (Saturday, Oct.19th @ 4pm)!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Next to Lady Gaga!

"Baby, you'll be famous..."

This post is dedicated to all those who sing along to the radio in the car because they know every single word to every single song (worst passengers ever), who were told by their parents (repeatedly) that if they kept singing it would start to rain, and who only sing in showers when they're alone in the house. Basically those who, like me, love to sing but for some cruel twist of fate have a terrible voice. Just believe in yourself. One day you may find yourself right next to Lady Gaga on the shelf of a shop?!
So it's a bookshop and not a record shop. Details.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Selling like hotcakes at Kinokuniya!!

"Who said there's nothing good to read on buses?"

Quick update from the bookstore: It has been restocked!!

"Diary of An Expat in Singapore sold out in its first week at Kinokuniya." Not even remotely what I was expecting would happen seven months ago, when I sat in front of a table full of post-its, wondering exactly how many words make up a book.
Not to mention its inauspicious placement on book shelves in some of the other bookstores, discussed here:
I may have dreamed of being next to "Rich Dad, Poor Dad,"  but business? Really?

So a very big thank you to all of you who took the plunge and went out and bought the book! I am loving your feedback. Especially when it contains the words: 'hilarious,' 'can't put it down', 'kids are making their own dinner tonight'. On the other hand, if it made you need to share. Not aiming for the Pulitzer here (obviously). One week ago, I was just hoping Eliot and her cousin Luca pictured above, wouldn't be the only readers :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Boys Birthday Parties: Be Prepared

"Who needs cups...when you have a frozen slushy?"

If you are a parent at an all boys birthday party you really need to be prepared:

1) Be prepared to not relax.
2) Be prepared to need the wine you brought for the other moms.
3) Be prepared to eat most of the chips you allegedly put out for the boys.
4) Be prepared to spend most of the party on the edge of your chair when one kid suggests: "Let's have a jumping competition...from the high wall straight into the pool below."
5) Be prepared to wonder why you agreed to a boys only party. A five hour one.
6) Be prepared to hear lots of laughing if the pizzeria you take them to has the word "Virgin" in it.
7) Be prepared to explain to a mom there is actually no need for the two dozen eggs she kindly brought for the egg flinging competition (nice one, Alexander).
8) Be prepared for lots of wrestling. That's not fighting... that's actually the way boys play.
9) Be prepared with an ice bag, band aids, and a fair amount of diplomatic maneuvering.
10) Be prepared to hear the words: skill, fail, and epic...a lot.
11) Be prepared to have a surefire hit if you hire the slushie machine your son always dreamed of. And don't look surprised, when the very helpful rep informs you it makes over 120 slushies. There may only be 12 boys but there are even more unsuspecting, dry necks.

Happy 12th Birthday, Alexander!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life is Stranger Than Fiction

My editor just called with the surreal news that, after just one week, Diary of An Expat in Singapore is the number one bestseller at Kinokuniya in the popular culture category. Now I feel a little guilty I complained about where the book was placed. The saying: "Location, location, location," definitely is not limited to real estate. Note to self: in another lifetime become best friends with bookshop staff before publishing a book. Forget about literary agents, it's the people in charge of book shelves who really hold your fate. In one bookshop, my book was next to Diary of Anne Frank (seriously?), in another it was placed in Military Highlights (because my Dad was a green beret?) and in another it actually took me, and two very friendly staff members, fifteen minute to even locate the book...
But as they say: life is stranger than fiction. Somebody must have found it after all. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Diary of An Expat in Singapore...The Book is Here!

Look what just arrived in the mail!
Diary of An Expat in Singapore, the book based on the blog, was published and released this week by Marshall Cavendish! And this box of first copies is the best package I received all year.
Who am I kidding: Best Package Ever!

I want to thank you all for having read this blog, sent me your insightful comments and questions, and generally inspired me to keep writing. There would be no blog without readers. A lot of sweat and determination (coffee and oreos) have gone into this.

Diary of An Expat in Singapore is now available in bookstores everywhere.
I can't wait to hear if you like it!!