The Dreadful FFP’s

Since I touched on the subject of a fashion faux pas in yesterday’s post, why not just share the whole lot? Here are the top six FFP’s, frequently spotted in the tropics, that make me cringe!

1. The “tunic or dress” question
There is a fine line between a tunic (a long loose top meant to be worn with a bottom) and a dress, but my daily commute up and down Orchard Road tells me that this line is habitually blurred. So let me draw that line again – right at the tip of the second knuckle on your middle finger. If you have to ask yourself the “tunic or dress” question, go with the former and put on a bottom. You want to be well-dressed, not half-dressed.

2. I see London, I see France…
The temperature here gives girls good reason to embrace camisoles, sheer tops, and skirts of the short and tight variety. Without good reason, however, some ladies forget that outerwear should dictate the underwear. If clothes could speak: the white summer top would beg not to be outshone by the black bra underneath; the spaghetti strap would shudder to share a shoulder with unsightly bra straps; and the hip-hugging skirt would cry for the help of a thong underwear to rid it of panty lines. Bottom line (no pun intended): your underwear should be visible to your boyfriend in your bedroom, not to hapless uncles sharing your subway car.

3. The difference between night and day
Unless you work in a fashion boutique or tend bars for a living, you should be acquainted with a class of clothing known as office wear. I work(ed) in an investment bank, a real button-up institution occupying the “business formal” end of the office wear spectrum. Yet still, I spy girls drifting in and out of the office wearing colors, shapes, and fabrics belonging to the night. Strappy dresses, stiletto sandals, satin, and sequins belong in Attica, not in Accounting.

4. Nailing down the problem
As a life-long nail biter I’m fully sympathetic of the female yearning for long, lean, and polished nails. Make that REAL nails. All grace is lost when acrylic nails, super glue, and paste-on flowers enter the picture. Not only do fake gems on plastic tips spell “trashy” faster than you can point a finger, they also ruin the sheen of your natural nails and can cause fungal infections. Next time you’re at the salon, opt for a buff color or a French. That spells “classy” to me.

5. The sin of maximization
I adore the busy, bright sartorial trimmings that mark the boho-chic era, but when I’m visually assaulted by “trend overload” (which is often) I get nostalgic for the minimalist aesthetic of the 1990s. I can compromise — a single oversized silk flower atop a blouse or a seemingly effortless draping of necklaces each makes for a fashion statement in its own right. A fashion disaster in its own right is a ruffled cardi over a floral-print top, paired with a pleated skirt, topped off by a wide belt and bangles that can build biceps. There are no hard and fast rules in fashion, but please, one trend at a time.

6. Human tights abuse
While I’m traveling down memory lane I might as well rewind to the 1980s, a time when leotard-and-tights aerobics instructors epitomized fashion. In recent years, a flock of starlets (Lindsay, Mischa, and the Olsen Trolls) has very publicly campaigned for a revival of leggings. Though spandex can be comfortable and chic when it hugs the well-proportioned thighs and calves of Hollywood, it’s a deeply unflattering look for 80% of the general female population. I’m by no means large, but every time I consider encasing my legs in a pair of tights for purposes not related to sports or thermoregulation, I remind myself that only DuPont benefits from this display of misplaced confidence. Read my lips: spare tires belong in car trunks and camel toes, well, on camels.


Singapore: my loves and peeves

Part I of my extravagantly long honeymoon slash recession holiday came to an end last night. My husband and I just spent two months in France, Italy, and the US. We came back to our adoptive home country, Singapore, for a week of errands before heading onto Part II.

We tried to prepare ourselves for this brief return to reality with a few last indulgences. On our last day in Paris we took a four-hour nap in the morning, spent two hours at lunch where we ordered enough to feed ourselves plus a pair of twins, read leisurely in the Luxembourg gardens, and had two rounds of Amarino gelato, before boarding the plane at Charles de Gaulle.

A wave of sweetly humid air embraced us as we stepped off the plane at Changi Airport. Thirty steps later we were greeted with that syncopated form of spoken English known as Singlish. Ah, we knew we were home.

I had mixed feelings about coming back. There were the things I missed while I was away – the efficiency, the cleanliness, the perpetual summer, my daily yoga classes, never stepping on errant pieces of gum and finding my shoes ruined (which I did in New York), and of course, my friends. But most prominent on my mind was how much I missed the food! After two months of constant enjoyment in wines, cheeses, meats, and other Western fare, I was really beginning to salivate in my sleep over the prospect of bee hoon. During the long flight back I began plotting my meals. Yong tau foo for breakfast, fried bee hoon for lunch, maybe some chili crab for dinner. Oh it’s good to be home.

But then, there are also the things GET to me when I’m here, my pet peeves. Most of them are petty and can be blamed on my personal quirks. For example, most people wouldn’t be bothered by what I call the “long shirt or dress?” fashion question. It’s a hot country, people are built petitely, it’s not a HUGE crime for some girls to wear dresses of questionable length while shopping on Orchard Road. (Ok fine, it IS kind of huge, but that’s just my own sartorial opinion). And after two years in Singapore I’ve learned to decipher, and when required, actually speak Singlish, that interesting melange of Chinese and British English. Really, it doesn’t bother me much to say “we’ll alight here” when trying to “get off” a taxi; it just gives me the giggles.

So, small things aside, what is my biggest pet peeve? I was reminded of it this morning while hauling home some Carrefour goods in a taxi. I get in the cab and give the driver the address in English, because that’s the language I speak with my husband and with most of my friends. Immediately the driver starts throwing curious stares my way in the rear-view mirror. I know what he’s thinking after hearing my American English, and I just hope that he’ll let his curiosity simmer in silence.

But he does not.

“Miss, are you a Singaporean?”

Oh boy, here we go again.

“No, I’m not Singaporean,” I reply. “But I’m a permanent resident,” I add, hoping this draws us closer somehow and puts an end to the questioning before it goes down an unpleasant path.

“Oh, what country are you from?”, he persists.

“I’m from China.”

And here comes the punch line. “Did you marry a Singaporean?”, he asks, all too predictably.

There you have it, my biggest pet peeve in Singapore is that despite all the Chinese college graduates and working professionals who now live here, a lot of locals still seem to think that the only way we get here is by marrying, or worse yet, by engaging in nocturnal professions.

I don’t think I’m being over-sensitive here. Many, many, many times I’ve sat in the back of a taxi and had this exact same conversation. The drivers are polite to varying degrees (some openly suggesting that the only Chinese girls here are those you find in Geylang, others kindly stopping at admiring my English skills), but not polite enough to hide that slightly deprecatory curiosity about how it is that mainland Chinese manage to live in this country.

Since I had just spent two weeks on the East Coast in the US, my “political correctness” meter was unusually high, and I decide to engage. Quietly I tell my taxi driver that I went to college in the US, married an American, and moved here to work at a bank. Quietly also, I add that I don’t think the majority of Chinese women living here managed to do so by “marrying up” to Singaporeans. He accepts my explanation warmly, hurrying to add that he himself married a “foreigner” and that he meant no harm by his questions. We part amicably when he drops me off at my destination.

I love Singapore and I hope to live here for a long time. In that time, I hope this slight unease and suspicion about “my people” goes away. I don’t blame people for harboring their doubts — after all, there ARE 1.4 billion of us poised to threaten the world with our low wage expectations, lax environmental standards, and whatever else attracts capitalists to shift commerce our way. We also leave our homeland in droves every year to seek new opportunities in every country that’ll allow us in (and even those that don’t!).

Attitudes WILL change, but until they do, dear taxi driver friends, can we all just keep our un-PC thoughts to ourselves?

What a way to start!

Within an hour of D&G’s arrival in Provence we had:

1. Hit a backpacker with our trusty little rental car, the Opel. Luckily, the scruffy lad’s pack was large enough to shield his spine from suffering mortal damage from our collective inexperience with manual transmission.

2. Driven 30 kilometers to arrive at the Polyclinique du Grand Sud,and NOT the Roman Aqueducts. The neighborhood looked like a retirement community in Florida, far from the rolling fields of lavender and Gallo-Roman ruins we had so long looked forward to. Apparently GPS is imperfect.

3. Found the Roman Aqueducts (the Pont du Gard), drank a bottle of red wine, sunned ourselves brown(well, not all of us, D was still a little pale), swam under a 2000 year old bridge in refreshingly chill water, and had our toes nibbled by tiny fish. These were good things.

4. Driven through a hailstorm. Yes, HAIL.

Welcome to France, D&G!

Small Delights: Luxembourg

Excerpt from travel log

When it comes to Europe our thoughts jump firstly to the grand adventures it has to offer. The great romance of Paris. The blazing Tuscan sun. The imperious castles of Germany. But there are good reasons to make a holiday of a daintier place, such as that bite-sized delight called Luxembourg. You can take your time and savor the local flavors (gastronomic and otherwise) without rushing around worrying about missing out on the Sistine Chapel or the Louvre. You can see (and taste) it all in one amazing weekend.

The crowning glory of my trip to Luxembourg was the last dinner at Il Fragolino, a restaurant at the foot of the Petrusse Valley. I had just learned that the largest immigrant populations in the Grand Duchy are Italians and Portuguese and had had good reason to drool over the prospect of an authentic Italian dinner with my Italian family and friends. This bit of imagination-induced salivation was nothing compared to what came after the waiter brought out the “degustazione pasta”, a pasta sampler.

The four of us at one end of the table who ordered this behemoth platter of carbs had to move our plates and glasses into a position of delicate balance (between the edge of the table and our laps) to make way for the long silver vessel. The “plate”, quotation marks necessary here for it was more like a little boat set afloat on the table, was filled to the brim with generously-sized and colorful pastas. From my vantage point I looked down th table at one delectable row of penne arrabiata, ricotta ravioli (each one almost the size of cha siu bao), prosciutto ravioli, spinach ravioli, and mushroom fusili. From this point on I lost coherence and cognition and could only engage in a primal feeding frenzy. But I do remember that it was here, at this sumptuous table, that I raised my glass and drank to the health of my companions, to the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted, and to a small gem tourists often neglect on their grand forays intoEurope – to Luxembourg!

Au marche!

Excerpt from travel log…

The mention of a Sunday market excited me. I expected to find some food stalls selling sandwiches and Orangina, maybe some trinket vendors, like the ones around Centre Pompidou and other popular hangouts. What I found at the far end of Blvd Richard Lenoir, close to the Bastille, wasn’t just a “market.” It was…heaven. Beginning as abruptly as the neighborhood park where a few homeless men loitered ended, the magnificent marche began and extended out for at least a mile.

And what a mile it was! Row upon row of green awnings barely concealing the surfeit of fresh produce and cooked delicacies spilling over underneath. I entered the market at a seafood stall and my eyes widened to take in the sheer quantity and variety of oceanic fare. There were generously sliced filets of salmon, haddock, mackerel, and many more kinds of fish I couldn’t even name heaped on ice-topped crates. After walking around the fish crates with my jaw hanging down to my chest I moved stations into the merchant’s crustacean section. Atlantic crayfish, crab, and lobsters, which looked like they had swallowed ten of their smaller Pacific cousins before being poached by the fisherman lay about slowly moving their claws. Monstrously large scallops and shells, the size of saucers, strewn about half open and revealing sumptuous tender flesh inside. This was just the first stall!

I peeled my person and jaw away from the seafood. Enticing as it all was it wouldn’t give my belly immediate gratification. I walked a few more stalls and came upon a cheese counter, which put the fromagerie section at Cold Storage Gourmet to mortal shame. Cheese wheels the size of my head! Really stinky Brie! Bluey moldy Roquefort!

Here I began my consumption, not just ogling, of foods. I was excited but also timid, not knowing which variety to buy and budgeting in my head how much I could justify splurging on my first meal during this summer of unemployment. I asked the girl behind the counter if I could try some and she obligingly sliced me pieces of the Tomme de Savoie (a hard cheese), which I deemed not hard or salty enough. She then handed me another one and proceeded to explain the nuances in the four different families of blue cheeses, where my eyes had already roamed. After the tutorial I asked for three chunks of cheeses I had sampled, simultaneously salivating and fretting over how much this breakfast extravaganza would cost.

The girl wrapped up my purchases in wax paper (old school! No plastic wrappers!) and reported, “Trois euros et quarante-cinq centimes.

Did I hear correctly? Had my French eroded beyond hope in the years of non-usage? Three euros and forty-five cents!? I verified the amount on the printed receipt. I couldn’t have bought one sixth of this much wonderful dairy moldiness for so little money back in Singapore!

I was floored, and done for. This delightful surprise at the cheese counter unleashed the food monster within and I threw caution and budget to the wind. I left the cheese angel at her station of duty and bounded down the street, trying to find other foods to go with my purchases while biting into a hunk of blue…

Bienvenue a Paris

Excerpt from my travel log…

Today Paris welcomed me with open arms and a kiss on each cheek. At 5.30am, thirty minutes ahead of schedule, we touched down at Charles de Gaulle just as the sun began its glowing ascent from the eastern sky. There was no time left for hesitation or panic. I was already here.

A month earlier I had resigned from an admittedly good job (which looked relatively better and better as the recession got deeper and deeper) in Singapore to now come to Paris to “find myself.” Cold feet didn’t plague me at my spring-time wedding but here I was getting cold feet on the plane ride to my summer adventure! What was I thinking leaving a well-paying job in the middle of a recession when everyone in their sane mind was hanging onto their jobs for dear life? What could I possibly accomplish living for five weeks in an expensive European capital except deplete my savings further? Had I made a monumental mistake running away from reality to an idealized memory of Paris that I’ve been building since my first visit in the summer of sixteen? And what happens if I don’t discover anything new here – hang my head low and pray to heavens my old firm would have me back?

This chain of self-interrogation came to an abrupt end as the travelers of Air France 257 jumped up to jostle for their bags. The flux of impatient voyagers eager to leave their seats for the last thirteen hours overpowered me, propelling me towards the exit…

Oohlala, how very onomatopoeic!

While scratching my head for an un-lofty name for this humble blog I got side-tracked into making a list of my favorite “words that sound like what they describe” (i.e. onomatopoeia) in French. A little Googling and dictionary-flipping added further to my glee. I hereby reaffirm that French is a delightful language with many many more auditory possibilities than English.

Some of my favorites:

froufrou (“froo froo”) – just sounds frilly doesn’t it?

chouchou (“shoe shoe”) – teacher’s pet

miam miam (“myahm myahm”) – they’re French, they subsist on carbs and fats daily and stay thin, seems appropriate that their word for “yum yum” is somehow the opposite of what we’d expect too

brouhaha (“brew ha ha”) – a noisy hubbub

bric-a-brac – my very favorite

scrogneugneu (“scroh new new”) – an old grouch, can’t you just see the surly grimace?

glou glou (“glue glue”) – glug glug

nunuche (“noo noosh”) – silly

truc (“trook”) – the all purpose word, literally “thingie”

rigolo – means funny, not related to gigolo

boum (“boom”) – a party

and some verbs….

chuchoter (“shoe show tay”) – to whisper

ronronner (“roo rong nay”) – to purr

grignoter (“gree nio tay”) – to nibble

and lastly…

patati et patata – so on and so forth