Between two homes

I recently went home for a couple of weeks recently.

It’s a bit odd having moved away from Singapore – where I grew up, went to school, studied and worked at – for almost five years now.

You’d think that I would feel like a foreigner when I visit my original home once a year. Many tell me about a “new” building that was already there before I left. That’s how long it felt like I’ve been gone perhaps. Because of that, I put in an extra effort to be as local as possible while I’m there.

Any cultural differences that H points out, I simply brush aside now and the obvious, almost as de facto and everything he knew was weird. I would punctuate my sentences a little more frequently with Singlish, speak in Mandarin with the coffee shop owners, just simply try to fit in.

Actually, I do that while I’m back in Berlin too. I insist in speaking German even though the waiter might’ve taken one look at my face and switched to English. I can’t even remember having ever spoken in English to his best friends – although I had met them before I even started learning German.

I have a strong need to feel a local in both homes.

But the fact that the two homes are so vastly different means that with a simple act of taking a flight back to Berlin, I suddenly didn’t feel like I could cope with the change. It felt a little like my body had arrived but my brain hadn’t.

These old buildings, the ice cold wintery days, the wind and the woods. It was a big change from one to the next.

I guess I’m going to need to start accepting the fact that I will always be a little bit local and a little bit foreign in both countries.


The power of women

Recently I attended a conference for women in the IT industry.

In my (skeptical) colleague’s words, it was like a women-shall-rule-the-universe gathering. Except it wasn’t.

Just shortly before that, the first female referee took the lead in a Bundesliga match, which made me extremely proud. I felt the significance of this monumental event was a little like having a first female president.

And I do have our (first) female president in my home country, and a female chancellor in my residential country.

So are women ruling the world?

Probably not. The world isn’t quite ready for this amount of female leaders yet. But whose fault is it, really?

I’m inclined to think that us women have it too hard on ourselves. Men are generally innocent. But women – we put these double standards on ourselves.

We judge when a mum goes to work while the child is young. We judge when our sons marry a girl who can’t cook. We judge when our female colleagues fail to stand up for themselves in a male-dominated arena.

But it’s up to us to change this.

I think in our current state of feminism, we may be overdoing it. We may be trying to become men, rather than embrace our strengths.

We forget that the stroke and elegance of a ballerina is sign of strength and control. We forget that our emotional intelligence leads us in the right way in crises. We forget that we can be pretty damn smart, without having to try to prove ourselves all the time.

So women, what I’m trying to say is: Believe in your strengths. They don’t have to look like men’s strengths and it’s also okay!

And stop judging other women.

Moshing with the flow

I was in a reggae-ska-concert in Berlin recently. I hadn’t expected it and we stood quite close to the front in this small bar, which I later learnt was the mosh pit.

Sometimes human’s idea of a safety zone is quite a strange concept. I have no problems being shoulder-to-shoulder with people in a subway or a crowded place, but the moment I feel someone in front or behind me, I think that’s way too close.

So I started to have my arms half bent in front of my chest. Somehow this made me feel more protected.

At first I wondered if educated civilized people would take part in moshing. In this concert where the distortion of the electric guitar was so loud that the text becomes barely audible.

Then I got slightly terrified of the people bumping into me. I quickly turned to H and told him this isn’t quite an Asian thing. I could tell it wasn’t his either, but we went with in.

Later I realized it was more tiring to stand there and judge these annoying people who kept bumping into me, than to take part in it. So I started jumping and pushing back.

I quickly became slightly terrified when I realized the one guy I had been pushing a lot looked unhappy and had a physique that looked as though he could throw me out quickly. I stopped to observe what happened next.

He continued moshing.

I continued moshing.

I even started to think this was fun.

It’s like if you’re in a car, and another behind you rams right into you, your injury depends on whether you had jammed your brakes or not. If you hadn’t tried to resist the impact too much, you wouldn’t have been too impacted at all.

Apparently this is also true with moshing… lesson learnt.

Have you ever moshed?

Our intangible home

We bought a house.

Well, an apartment to be exact.

You wouldn’t believe how intangible this statement is, when buying a newly built, not yet ready apartment – in a city like Berlin.

“In a city like Berlin” because where I come from, buying a completely unbuilt apartment is what 99% of the population do. They have to decide 4 to 5 years in advance to buy, and they have to present their marriage certificate within 6 months of getting the key. This means many couples are under pressure to get a house without knowing for sure that they wanna marry.

In the western side of the world, it is probably more common to buy a house when you can see and touch it, and inspect it before buying.

“Intangible” because we did it the Singaporean way in Berlin. We found the real estate offer online, looked at broschures at the real estate agent, visited the neighbourhood, spoke to the architects, spoke to banks for mortgage offers, and said, ok I’ll buy whatever they’re trying to sell to me on paper.

So we’ve signed the papers and received our last paycheck that’s not given away for mortgage.

As the people say, shit just got real.

I don’t know why this is a much bigger deal than marrying actually. Perhaps it’s a definitive sign of staying in Berlin for a longer term, or that we are gonna start a family at some point hence this is so grownup, or that it’s just a huge load of money.

Thankfully it’s going to be ready in 1.5 years (and not 5), but… I think I’m going to believe it when I’m in the apartment.

Husbands cannot find their own things anymore

I’ve come to realize that my husband’s new hobby is to ask me where his stuff is. This includes his wallet, mobile phone…

Basically everything that I may not have touched or seen in the last 7 days.

But I may have the answer and often I do lead him to the answer!

A few days ago the same thing happened. This time, he found his bag before I could respond.

Husband: Do you know where my bag is?

(3 seconds later)

H: Found it!

I: Why don’t you know where your bag is?!

H: Because you placed it on the couch!

I: Which is next to where you placed it (on the floor)!

H: And my shirt was covering it!

I: Which was done by you!

H: Oh.

My theory: Men suddenly lose their ability to find things the moment they’re married.

H’s theory: Men simply find it more efficient asking the available resources than searching high and low for something.



As an Asian in Germany, one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had would be to enter and enjoy a sauna.

Because of its geographical proximity to the Scandinavian countries, who stand by this truly, Germans have taken up the culture of being entirely naked in a sauna. To them, saunas are the one place that is truly clean, rid of all unnatural materials – including your bathing suits.

Well, okay, bath towels are fine to sit or lie on.

When H first suggested visiting a sauna place three winters ago, I said, sure let’s ask your brother if he’d like to come along! H hesitated. Later I found out why.

The sauna place was like paradise, with indoor swimming pools and a large variety of sauna rooms. Germans take their saunas very seriously, except everyone was naked. Being short-sighted and a spectacles-hater, I wore contact lenses everywhere possible. This was the first time I decided to go blind as a bat. Somehow I thought if I couldn’t see clearly, neither could people see me.

But after the second and third and fourth time, I thought this makes sense. I mean we wear bathrobes everywhere else in between sauna rooms anyway, which is sort of a dream come true. Apart from that, it is just a body!

That was the interesting part. I have a theory that because many people here take bodies as just bodies (and are not / should not be associated with something sexy in a sauna), nobody looks at a naked body and immediately gets turned on. The same goes with artistic films and pictures. As long as it is not associated with sex, a naked body does not make it pornographic – unlike what Facebook thinks.

But don’t forget to do what the Romans do in Rome.

While we went on an adventurous honeymoon trip last year, we ended up in a hotel in Montenegro that had a sauna. When we got there, the first thing H did was to strip naked and enter. A horrified employee got in quickly and told him to cover up immediately! Oops 🙂

While we were in Poland last week, we were a little more careful with our behaviour, so we waited and observed.

First, nobody stripped when they went into the sauna, so we went in with our bathing suits. How very uncomfortable and unnatural, I thought to myself. Wait – did I just turn Northern?!

And then we got out and observed that a couple stripped before entering – it must’ve been okay. So we followed suit. Except a man entered thereafter without stripping. Then it felt incredibly uncomfortable for me, as I tried to cover up whatever I could, because I felt extremely naked.

This must’ve been what Adam and Eve felt, when before and after the fruit!

The sound of silence

I'm sitting here in a large room in a small town. The room makes no sound, neither does the street.

This after spending the day being in the office, on the crowded train, in the loud restaurant.

Suddenly I'm understanding the meaning of the phrase "deafening silence".

I really do want to break the silence by putting the tv on. Or Spotify. Something, anything.

But I shan't. I shall deal with the sound of silence. Just living with me. I can do this!

Good friends are there for the good times

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday. We talked about friendships.

And she said, you know what? People like to say good friends are there for the bad times. But that's bullshit.

It's way too easy to have to be a listening ear and comfort someone by saying things will get better, this too shall pass, he doesn't deserve you.

But the true friends are the ones who are there for your good times – because they are the ones who feel happy for you.

That couldn't be better said.

When was the last time you put aside anything you're dealing with to share the joy and excitement your friend is going through?

I've exciting/scary news at the moment, (and I would share it in due time) but the reactions I got so far has made it way too easy to evaluate who gives a damn.

Some empathize with your anxiety and share your joy, while other only react to the news they want to hear, and prefer to speak about themselves instead.

I have a theory based on a scale of acquaintance to good friends.

  • Acquaintances are there for the good times; they pop up to congratulate you in good times despite having not spoken to you in years.
  • Friends are there for the bad times because they can still be assed enough to ensure you feel a little better.
  • Good friends are there for the bad, and most wonderfully, for the good.

Ah, friends.

Birthday culture, as I know it

It's funny that after living here for four years, you still find yourself alienated by the smallest rituals.

The thing that struck me recently was birthdays.

Now, there are things I have come to accept:

  1. It is the worst luck ever to wish someone happy birthday in advance. Big no go. Always on the day or later.
  2. You have to bring your own cake to work on your birthday. Don't expect anything from your colleagues.

So those are (weird) stuff I got used to. But there are just some others that I find it hard to live without.

Without them I was not just visually unhappy on my birthday, I was also verbally unhappy.

Let me explain:

  • Birthdays only count when you have a birthday cake with candles on it.
  • There is preferably a physical present wrapped with wrapping paper.
  • When you have the birthday cake in front of you, others must sing you a birthday song.
  • This is closely followed by the request that you make a wish with your fingers intertwined and eyes closed. You're not allowed to reveal what you wished for.
  • Then you blow out the candles, all at one go.
  • And you make sure you make the first cut on the cake. Whether you end up separating the pieces is secondary.

After making the most amazing cake a few days later, submitting to my tantrums on my birthday, my husband wondered aloud why I blew out all the candles, thus making the room extremely dark.

Oh honey, you don't know anything about my culture.

The hills are alive

Some weeks ago, I spent a week in the mountains in Austria.

As I've grown up living and breathing in a big city, mountains are quite foreign to me. I mean sure you hear stories about mountain climbers and their amazing escapades in the tallest mountains in the world, but I never really knew people who go hiking in the mountains just like that. Neither have I ever.

That week I did. And oh boy, my fear of heights has never been more obvious.

On narrow winding paths, I had troubles looking down to the beautiful landscape and little towns that nestled below me. In my head it was only: if I fall now I'm going to die.

But the nice thing about trekking in the mountains is it's you against yourself. I chose to divert my attention to the path where I was going to put a foot in front of the other. I stopped dead in my treks a few time to enjoy the view, but there was no way I was going to enjoy the view whilst descending.

Because we were there for a week we looked at other activities too. H really wanted to go paragliding.


I always wanted to do that too. But it's just a theory that I push to the back of my head. A little like skydiving, or riding a unicorn. Great ideas, but not gonna happen.

So we walked into the office and I said, well, I'd like to paraglide but I need you to convince me to.

And they did, so I signed up.

We had to take the cable car up to a plateau at 1900m. So I took the time to ask our tandem pilots a million questions: Has anyone backed out in the last minute? Has there been any accidents? Has anyone thrown up in midair? Hoe often do you do this? How does it feel? What should I expect? What do I need to do?

And we flew!

The scariest part of this whole experience is the part where you have to run off a plateau on a descend. Remember the part I described about not being able to watch while descending? It was a little like running off a cliff. Uhh…

But it was absolutely gorgeous. I don't think it cured my fear of heights but I can confidently say: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!