Sunday, July 30, 2006

Putting Down Roots

I am officially in love with Orchard Road.

This wonderful stretch of malls and boutiques and bazaars is simply quite astounding. Takashimaya, Tang Plaza, HMV with the Japanese kids plying the hallways in their Shibuya-esque get-ups, Cinescape with a round-the-clock movies during weekends, Level One and the Far East Mall, Borders, and of course, the ubiquitous Lucky Plaza – everything is simply a shopaholic's fantasy. I've taken to exploring the basement of the malls with Gail, because there are so many adorable stores that sell everything from organic skin care to loose-leaf teas to gift wrapping to fried Mars Bars at the British takeaway (haven't tried it yet, but Gail swears by it). I have to exercise caution, particularly when browsing around Kinokuniya – the first moment I stepped on the plush scarlet carpet, I wanted to fall on my knees and simply breathe in the smell of an entire mall level of books.

And the people! This is a fiction writer's paradise. Just riding the train from Ang Mo Kio to City Hall is enough to send the gears in my head rolling – these impossibly elegant young Singaporean women in their needlepoint heels and Dolce & Gabbana handbags (originals, mind you) jostling alongside Indian and Bangladesh men that smell like sweat and curry, their dark skin swallowing the harsh fluorescent light of the train cars. The Indian women I see are wearing the traditional sari in bright Bollywood colors, with the artistically designed bindi painted on their foreheads. Here, mosques are made of chrome and glass. The Muslim women, moon-faced and doe-eyed, peer shyly from beneath the swaths of silk that flow like multi-colored rivers down their backs. I'm already toying with ideas in my head, hopefully in time for submission to a number of publications.

Sadly though, the local literature here is quite in its infancy. I think Singaporeans make better readers than writers. There’s an exhibit of their celebrated authors (in English, Chinese, and Malay, no less) at the National Library and I picked up one of the anthologies of Singaporean literature and started browsing. It's not very impressive – I think there's a dearth of original concepts and ideas, particularly from the younger generation of writers. I remember in Manila, a lot of writers complain that we were already a couple of literary decades away from the movement that is currently being practiced in the United States and Europe. Well, guess what? We're pretty advanced compared to these people. (Dean, I don't even think they’ve heard of the genre of speculative fiction over here.)

Anyway, classes start in a week, and the international students' orientation is on the afternoon of August 3. I'm looking forward to that – I think poor Gail has had quite enough of my company for the past couple of days that we both need a break from each other for quite some time. And while Anne is accommodating and hospitable, she does have her own life and all that, so I am really left to my own devices most of the time. I've taken to talking to myself inside my head, holding long-winded mental conversations that are really just a way to stave off the loneliness and lack of conversation.

Still, I've officially started putting down roots. I finally got my Student's Pass after three days of going back and forth to the ICA at Lavender Station, and with it, I have managed to get a savings account at the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) and a local SingTel number and a handphone. (No, they don’t call them cell phones or mobile phones here.) This week, I deal with moving into a new apartment that's a hop-skip-jump away from NUS – which is so far out into the north west that sometimes I keep forgetting that I'm in the city still – in a compound known as Normanton Park. (Yes, the irony does not escape me.) The flat is owned by two Atenean graduates, both male and attached, and they seem to be pretty cool about renting the extra room out to (a) a girl, (b) a young girl, and (c) a young girl on a stipend. I guess I just got really lucky. ^_^

So, goals for this week: move in properly; buy important house stuff (there’s an Ikea a bus ride away from the flat at Normanton, so I can check it out later on); get my registration and other class requirements fixed; get my medical insurance and other payables so that the school can already reimburse me; and basically just settle into this niche I will be staying in for the next year or so. It's pretty exciting. Now, all I need is a boyfriend and good grades, and I'll be all set. ^_^

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