Friday, 10 August 2018

Thoughts on expat life in Singapore and an update on Blood and Bandages.

     Life as an expat is mixed. 
     You have the excitement of sights that broaden your mind...
Interactive space exhibit at the ArtScience Museum
Supertrees Grove at Gardens by the Bay
challenge your faith...
Devotees in the Thaipusam procession, a Hindu festival in honour of Lord Subramaniam
An altar at Singapore's oldest Chinese temple, Thian Hock Keng, dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea
A scene from the Vessantra Jataka, a Buddist tale of perfect generosity on a Burmese silver offering bowl
a fish stall at the Tekka Centre in Little India
Second World War graves at Kranji War Cemetery
Punggol beach, one of the sites used by the Japanese army to massacre Chinese males during Operation Sook Ching (Feb 1942)
and surprise.
Graffiti wall art in Haji Lane, Kampong Glam

     Upon arrival, we were embraced by the English speaking expat community and automatically included by dint of being there. It's a community which includes, English, American, Australian and Dutch, all of whom make up part of a tiny minority (1-3%) of the population of Singapore. Whilst the welcome was warm and generous, membership of such a group has its drawbacks. Most of the clothes shops don't cater for our size and we have to be wise to the view that expats are made of money and charged accordingly. 
     The expat community is also a transitory one as many postholders are on two or three-year fixed term contracts. Even a permanent job doesn't equate to greater security as it's entirely dependant upon maintaining the vital Employment Pass. If you fall out with your boss, suffer a long-term sickness or are daft enough to abuse the police, it can be removed. If it's removed, so are you, no matter how settled you are or how critical the school year. Worse still, if the Employment Pass holder dies, the remaining dependants are given a month to leave the country.
     Such a precarious existance is uncomfortable. You become acutely aware of the need to keep healthy and to follow the rules. Perhaps that's the reason why expats don't tend to jaywalk.
     On a deeper level, being in the minority forces you to confront some national traits, one of which is the Britain class system. From an early age, we are made aware that a person's class, and therefore his rightful place in society, is defined by, amongst other things, accent, education, wealth and family. As we get older, we can also detect if someone has moved between classes, fallen on hard times or has illusions of grandeur. Such behaviour will invite comment and, most likely, condemnation.
     The British class system does not matter a fig if you are jostling for space within a tiny minority. If you try to hold onto it you are likely to become irrelevant or even considered an oddity. In an expat community where everyone is struggling to adapt, you are seldom judged. If you are, it'll be on the basis of how friendly, supportive, generous and open-minded you are. Hence, as a British expat, we  do well to abandon our innate instinct to judge and classify people. New country, new rules.  
     And now for something completely different, Blood and Bandages, the tour.
     Our first outing was to the Imperial War Museum London where we spent the afternoon signing books and chatting to visitors. 

      William and I at the Meet the Author event at IWM-London

William's energy never flagged as he shared his WW2 experiences with overseas visitors

A week later saw us at the War and Peace Revival. 
     We were in the Author's Pavilion alongside writers and celebrities like Rusty Firmin, Professor Andrew Robertshaw and Elaine Everest. The camaraderie was wonderful but what I found most touching was the respect shown to William particularly by ex-army veterans, like Alan Barryex-Grenadier Guard and Rusty Firmin ex-SAS Parachute Regiment and Commando RA, whose role in the Iranian Embassy siege was made into the film, 6 Days.
Alan Barry thanking William for the role the 214th Field Ambulance played at Mount Camino, Italy, Nov 1943
Rusty and William chatting at the end of a long day

     There were so many memorable moments but one I shall never forget was when William wheeled himself over to meet the other WW2 veterans and greeted them with a heartfelt, "My comrades."

William greets Jeff Haward MM and his fellow WW2 comrades.

But it was not all about chatting. There were books to sell and talks to present.  

Flying solo at the Friday talk on Blood and Bandages

with Penny Legg and William on Saturday

     On the Saturday, it was Jeff Haward's 99th birthday. For a veteran of Dunkirk, El-Alamein and D-Day, the War and Peace team pulled out all the stops. First, a piped band marched into the Pavilion and played a medley of tunes culminating in a rendition of Happy Birthday. 

It was a bit of a shock when they came marching in

Next a birthday cake appeared accompanied by a glamorous 1940s duo who sang a sultry reprise of Happy Birthday. 
     William, never one to ignore a pretty face, nabbed a cuddle on the girl's way out.

At 103 years-old, William has still not lost his eye for a pretty face. Marvellous.

It was a super two days and, God willing, William and I will return next year.
     It has been a very full summer and we loved the three weeks we spent in England catching up with family and friends. The moment we emerged from the Southwick tunnel and saw Shoreham by-Sea glistening below, it felt like home and it was hard to leave. However, there are more exciting times ahead here in Singapore. I have been asked to deliver a screenwriting course to a group of teenagers and I can't wait to get started. However, Blood and Bandages will still keep me busy because I have a series of interviews and a lecture to deliver in the autumn and once I've finished teaching, I'll start on adaptating it for TV or film. How's that for a new challenge?
     Thanks for dropping by and I'll see you again soon.


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