Monday, January 27, 2014

Growing Up in Singapore

"No Chinese homework?!"

"Wait...where am I from again?"

"Or we could order a pizza." (photo Martin Spreckley)

"I January supposed to be cold?"

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Signs You Have a Big Brother

"Shoelaces, again?"

1) You play Minecraft.
2) You wear cleats around the house.
3) You own a nerf gun.
4) You want an app for Christmas. Any app.
5) You know the difference between normal lego and nano lego.
6) You are the first person in your class reading the Percy Jackson series.
7) You're not too bothered about laces (see above).
8) You get to hang out with the guys (see below).

"Good times!"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Previously...on Breaking Bad

"I have a plan on how to make some quick cash..." (photo Martin Spreckley)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

If "The Luminaries" Was Set in Singapore

"Great book...I just wish there were more characters."

This post will only make sense if you:

a) Have read The Luminaries, 832 pg (who's counting?) Man Booker Prize by Eleanor Catton,
b) lived at some point in Singapore,
c) have been to New Zealand (preferably the west coast of the South Island);
d) none of the above, but have a twisted sense of humor.

So here goes,
If "The Luminaries" was set in Singapore:

1) Instead of being called prospectors, people seeking fortune would be called expats.

2) Instead of looking for gold in the Otago fields, those people would be working in the IT industry.

3) Instead of drinking brandy at the Dust & Nugget discussing weather forecasts, they'd be drinking espresso at Suntec City discussing sales forecasts.

4) Instead of arriving on a ship called Godspeed, they would arrive on Singapore Airlines.

5) Instead of placing ads in the West Coast Times for barmaids and missing trunks, they would scan ads in The Straits Times for chinese tutors and coach trips to Legoland.

6) A night out wouldn't be a seance in the Gridiron Hotel, but a musical at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

7) A dissolute night out, wouldn't be an opium den in Chinatown, but a karaoke bar in Orchard Towers.

8) Instead of hiding gold in the hemlines of her dress, Anna Wetherall. would be hiding frozen rib eye steaks at the bottom of her valise.

9) Instead of settling down in Hokitika, they'd be looking for a cluster house on Chancery Lane.

10) Instead of misunderstanding Maori slang, they'd be misunderstanding Hokkien slang.

11) And finally, instead of hoarding gold, they'd be hoarding cheese.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Room With an Uncensored View

"Now that's a view!"

I know all about a room with a view. I grew up in a house with a view. Instead of the Arno river in Florence, it overlooked the Adige in Verona. Then, an evil witch took it away. It's called rental. She wasn't a real witch (obviously) but that's the story I like to tell my kids. It seemed like a good idea until a 4 year old Alexander spotted the actual landlady and screamed (while pointing at her): the witch!
Yesterday, was the last day of the kids' three week (yikes) school holiday, so to mark this momentous occasion, the kids and I ordered a pizza and sat down to watch a movie. I chose A Room With a View. I was pleasantly surprised that they enjoyed this English period drama. I first watched it years ago in college. It probably helped that, since it is set in Italy, they constantly thought they were recognizing churches and squares: "I remember those pigeons."

Spoiler Alert: There is major male frontal nudity.
Forget the controversy surrounding "The Wolf on Wall Street," which has been censored here in Singapore, if you want uncensored male nudity at a cheap price, just watch A Room With a View on youtube. A bit of a surprise in such a stuffy movie, but apparently when you present British gentry with a cold water creek in the countryside, they just can't get out of their multilayered clothes fast enough. The most interesting bit was hearing the kids ask: "Why aren't they censoring this? I thought naked people weren't allowed on TV in Singapore. This is like Italy."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Welcome to the jungle (dispatches from the third grade)!

"Welcome to the jungle."
Upon entering the classroom, the teacher smiles and Eliot greets me with a reassuring "Welcome to the jungle, Mommy. I'm not joking. Our school is basically in a jungle." So she's not being metaphorical...good to know. And an equally reassuring: "We have lots of questions because we want to know stuff."
Actually, I love talking to kids, especially while my daughter is still excited about the idea of her mom coming to her class. "Are you happy I'm coming to your class tomorrow to speak about being an author, Eliot?" "You think I'm happy? I've been waiting for this moment my whole life. Or at least since second grade."(She is sometimes prone to exaggeration, like her mother.) Frankly, I can't imagine my 12 year old being that thrilled.
We discussed writing, editing, the many people involved in publishing just one book, and related topics such as royalties (using ice cream as an example added relevance). I learned they all know what expat means "to live in Singapore but come from somewhere else," that even though none of them like the cold, they unanimously agreed "the thing they would like most would be for it to snow in Singapore," although conceding "it is easier to make plans when it's sunny."
They all have favorite books they are reading, think the biggest difference back home is that "there they wear coats," and they have pretty strong opinions about kindergarteners: "They jump in the mud, are way smaller, and don't know much." So, notwithstanding my apprehension about meeting what I suspected would be my toughest crowd yet (including my harshest critic, a kid who customarily greets me in the morning, demanding: "Why is your book so expensive?"(Speak to the distributor), it all went well. Now, all I have to do is wait until school is out so I can find out from Eliot which of her baby photos I shouldn't have shown :)

"Are those candy canes in your bag for us?"

Monday, January 6, 2014

Feedback: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

"Wait...which one am I?"

I don't know which is worse: waking up and reading a harsh review about my new book Diary of An Expat in Singapore on Amazon with the less than flattering title: "Author Needs Therapy," or seeing underneath it an absolutely glowing and then realizing it is signed own father. True, my dad is like the Great Santini of dads; an ex-green beret not prone to flattery. In fact, when I first started the blog his reaction was reassuringly positive: "Why would anybody want to write a blog?" But people don't know that. They'll make assumptions. They'll think I paid him. (Not that I'm beneath that sort of thing.)
I'm pretty sure it was my Mom who put him up to this.  I called her yesterday to complain about a negative review I got. In her customary way of being both reassuring and frightening at the same time, she offered: "In your case, I wouldn't take it as an insult." Really? Author Needs Therapy? Why not? "Because you're a writer. Now, if you were a pianist like your brother, that would be different." What? How did she manage to make this about Julian (who, btw, is playing at Carnegie Hall in New York City this very Sunday: I know, old habits are hard to die.)
After I finish reading her the review, she adds the anxiety inducing part: "Gee, maybe you should get a bodyguard."
But seriously, who wouldn't want to hear they need therapy? Not that I'm actually refuting the reviewer's claim. And there's nothing wrong with having's just that small detail of hearing it from a total stranger that is vaguely disturbing. I mean, I would expect this from people who actually spend time with me, like family and friends. But who are you to say I need therapy? My husband? I don't think so. Then again, it was signed anonymously.

I was feeling sorry for myself then I happened to see a post about the gorgeous tennis champion Maria Sharapova. Underneath the photo, one of the comments was: "You can tell she is going to be really ugly looking and fat by the time she hits middle age." Wow. I guess it's true what Alexander said after I read him the review: "Mom, haters gonna hate."

P.S. So, if you have read my book Diary of An Expat in Singapore and liked it, (and are feeling magnanimous), please leave a review at Amazon: or at Goodreads: because authors need positive karma, too!
Oh, and if you're a family member please use a pseudonym. Thank you!!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lessons I Learned From Publishing a Book

Lesson #1: Make life easy for yourself. 
Choose a title that makes the question: "What's the book about?" redundant.

Window front at Booksactually? Not too shabby...

Lesson #2: If you're serving macarons at the book launch, remember to also serve water. Otherwise,  the first question from the audience will be from your daughter:
"Can I have some water, Mom?"

Lesson #3: Get your hair done. There's always somebody with a camera.

Lesson #4: Expect the kids to want theirs done as well.

Lesson #5: At speaking events, make sure there are chairs.
People like what you say much better
when sitting down.

Lesson #6: If close family members ask difficult questions: "When is this book going to make money?" Keep your cool. Revenge is best served a company dinner, for example.

Lesson #7: Pick somebody to introduce you at events who knows more about the book than you do. That really raises the bar. 
Thank you, Veronica Manson!

Thank you, Leslie Lim!

Lesson #8: Have family (and visiting cousins) pose nonchalantly with your book.
Consider serving protein at breakfast to improve their stamina.

Lesson #9: Nobody gets a free ride.

Lesson #10: Have fun. Because, let's face it, when is this going to happen again?
Time for that durian pastry, Melvin Neo!