Rosalind

Rosalind
Singapore, Singapore

Singapore, Singapore


“Why are you here?” The first thing I notice about my interrogator as she looks up from a newspaper article is her tooth. The only one in her mouth juts out below a mess of straggling, mousy hair. The shopping mall coffee shop is crowded and I remind her of this, but it is quickly apparent that she’s asking a more general question. In the run up to what is billed as the country’s first ever competitive elections next month, her challenge to my right to reside in Singapore is not out of place. An open door policy has precipitated the arrival of a stream of ex pat workers in the past few decades. So, I assumed that having decided to stop here to earn some extra travel funds, I would rapidly join the confident, striding ranks of foreigners breezing between meetings in the Central Business District. However with voters to sway, championing local employment rights from electoral podiums is suddenly very fashionable. My aborted attempt to get into business in Singapore was therefore shrouded in talk of quotas and prioritising the local workforce. Some knowledge of Chinese would also have been beneficial. The lady opposite is waiting for an answer. I explain that I have found work because there are few native English teachers here to educate the ex pats invited in during the last twenty years or so. Inevitably, their preference is to consolidate their knowledge of native English, rather than attempt to master the local dialect, the unique Malay-English-Chinese hybrid Singlish. She says her name is Rosalind. Addressing my comments, she puffs out her cheeks and abruptly swivels in her chair. She raps the shoulder of the person behind her and asks for, nay, demands a pen. It is handed over nervously by a poor girl who can’t be more than ten years old. Oblivious and impassioned, Rosalind gets on her soapbox. I am fascinated to hear that she is an active member of the Worker Party (WP), the only political group with any chance of prising enough electoral seats from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to influence decision making. As she is talking, Rosalind jabs the pen at the newspaper for emphasis. An inky mess quickly spreads above the headline. “Obviously-” she announces grandly. Despite the lack of information in this fledgling sentence, she pauses here for effect and scribbles the word down. She underlines it twice. “Obviously. The people. Singaporeans…NEED. Work. Jobs.” I think I am supposed to stand and applaud. Gradually the cogs start turning and she reels off a few campaign messages and fragments of policy. As she does so, she lingers over eye contact until my cheeks heat up and I have to look away. I’m not accustomed to political preaching. My skin itches. Her only cohesive point concerns the shrewdly chosen election date. Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March 2015 and the fiftieth anniversary of Singapore’s independence a few months later whipped the populace into a nationalistic fervour. Enduring images of their beloved President’s rain-soaked funeral and the Red Arrows spelling out 50 in formation in the sky over Marina Bay are still fresh in the minds of the locals. Weeks later, when I learn that the Worker Party does not yet have enough candidates to contest every constituency, Rosalind’s urgent but disorganised musings make more sense. The PAP is subsequently given another term after a landslide victory, so for the likes of Rosalind it is back to the drawing board. For her and her fellow WP representatives, there is still a long way to go.


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A royal welcome to the Lion City

A royal welcome to the Lion City
Singapore, Singapore

Singapore, Singapore


“We’ve got some fruit for you to try”. Kaili’s parents have extended an incredibly generous welcome, housing me as I search for work and longer-term accommodation. We are in Punggol, north-eastern Singapore. Here, uniform high-rise blocks of government flats broken up by a grid of wide avenues stretch into the distance. Any gaps are needled with cranes and scaffolding, manipulated round the clock by an almost entirely migrant workforce. This is a Singapore I couldn’t have imagined from the UK, a Singapore that would not have featured on any itinerary of my devising. Earlier this week, I stepped into the local mall, Punggol Plaza, looking for an overdue beard trim. The staff in the Chinese place downstairs looked horrified at the thought of beard cutting, directing me frantically up to the third floor where a Malay barber then recontoured my lips on his way to my moustache. The expert hair engineers in Little India came to my rescue the following day, pruning the look I will bring to job interviews from the facial shrubbery. A fearful smell rising thickly from a yellowed, brain-like mass now confounds my senses as I approach the dining table. Kaili’s whole family sits around it, awaiting my reaction with anticipation. Never-washed gym socks, a sewage plant on a hot summer day, me after seven shower-less days in the Gobi Desert…all of these smells are somehow steaming from what Kaili’s parents has just referred to as fruit. A durian emerges imperiously from its spiked amour-like shell between them all on the table. “It’s my favourite fruit”, Kaili’s mother says helpfully. I force myself to try it. Durian is abhorrently fleshy and dense. Once inside my mouth, its foul odour redoubles and I fight a misguided urge to spit and make a run for it. Back to Hong Kong, back to Mongolia, back to Timbuktu. Instead I heave, giggle nervously and swallow. There’s no going back now.