Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Won't Do that in LA

Singapore is so different than the U.S., but it's the little things you notice. 

Leave the house without my sunglasses, even when it's sunny and hot. When I arrived in Singapore I wondered why I was the only person wearing sunglasses. I also wondered why my face was so hot. You can't wear sunglasses here, at least not the ones that sit on your face. It's just too hot. Did I mention that it's hot?

Give two barefoot guys standing at my front door--who speak no English and have no appointment--access to every room in my home because they are wearing matching shirts, and carrying tools. But they "service" and "management." We are renting an apartment, which means that the management company is responsible for maintenance and sometimes sends people to service things. Our first year of aircon maintenance is free. Not gonna screw that up.

Make plans after my appointment with the cable guy, gas man, or government agency. Everything in which the government has a hand is extremely efficient in Singapore. My husband scheduled an appointment with City Gas the day we moved into our apartment. The appointment window was 12 - 1, the technician showed at 12:05 and was done by 12:30. My husband scheduled an appointment for two days later for wifi/fiber, the appointment window was 9 - 11, the technician showed at 9:05, and was done by 9:40! But most amazing was the Ministry of Manpower (MoM) which is the equivalent of INS in the states. I was on time for my 9 am appointment to receive my dependent pass, my name was called within 15 minutes, and I was out the door 7 minutes later. 

Carry an umbrella because it's raining, or sunny. There are two songs about California that are very true: "It Never Rains in California" and "Nobody Walks in LA." Nobody carries an umbrella because it never rains and people drive everywhere, so on the rare occasion that does rain you'll either be in traffic, at work, or at home. Go ahead, ask someone if they have a story about rain at the Hollywood Bowl.

Take a train or a bus in a dress or suit. Public transportation is disgusting in LA because many people who ride it behave in a disgusting manner--changing diapers on bus seats, picking their noses, eating greasy food despite the threat of fines. The Singapore trains and stations are clean because people observe the "no eating or drinking" rules. Sit on the Singapore MRT in white linen pants. It's fine. 

Take a shortcut through a public housing development to get to the market ... to buy fresh vegetables and organic oat milk. An estimated 80% of residents live in public housing flats (HDB) in Singapore, the goal of which is to build a nation of homeowners. The complexes are near markets, hawker centers, schools, and MRT stops. They remind me Leisure World in Seal Beach, CA for all ages--green, clean, pleasant and well cared-for. 

Walk a deserted road through a jungle to find the MRT. I took the bus to visit my dog in quarantine my first week in Singapore, but the traffic on the return route convinced me to take the train. Google Maps doesn't know the walking route to the MRT from quarantine and gave me the long route around the army base, which added 30 minutes in 87 degree weather at 78% humidity. As it turns out this road leads to a HDB park next to the MRT.

At the end of that road is the MRT?

Hang everything you wash where it's visible to everyone. We have not yet received our first electricity or gas bill so I don't know how punishing the dryer and aircon will be. The dryer seems to operate more like a water extractor than the clothes dryer I am used to, so I purchased a drying rack for The Yard where I hang most things. In LA I hung dainties and Lululemon on the rod with hangers we built special over the sink, next to the washer and dryer in the garage. Here people hang sheets, socks, towels, everything. They also hang it on their balconies which we never do in California. Though it may be environmentally responsible it looks ghetto, so much so that HOAs ban it.

Say "sorry" all the time to everyone everywhere. I know Amy Schumer would hate this, but it seems to be something more like "excuse me" here. It's not really apologizing but showing deference or respect for another person. Everybody does it--men, women, old, and young. It's not like at home where women apologize for being present as Amy suggests. Maybe it's to show that you are not a loud American demanding ketchup immediately?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Time Bending is the New Time Management

The phrase "time flies when you're having fun," though a misnomer, is easier to remember than "time slows down when you are trying new things." Time perception is a matter of brainpower. The more that is required, the slower time seems to move. Unlike taste or sound, we perceive time rather than sense it. “Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up” according to neuroscientist David Eagleman. 

Take, for example, the 48 hours my husband and I spent in Tokyo this summer. Most signage in Tokyo is in Japanese, requiring extra brainpower. Everything is different--purchasing a metro ticket with yen from a kiosk, using a vending machine menu to buy tickets for ramen at a restaurant, or trying every feature of the sophisticated toilets. Nothing is what you're used to: Yelp reviews and your saved places in Google Maps pop up in Japanese. The best sushi restaurants are in train stations. And nobody wears sunglasses. Those days in Tokyo seemed to last twice as long as those I have spent around a pool in Hawaii, which is exactly what makes Tokyo so wonderful yet so foreign.  

Yelp Review: Tokyo

How else can you slow time?

Get Your Om On

Mindful meditation creates longer perceived durations of time. When participants were asked to listen for ten minutes to a meditation exercise designed to focus their attention on the movement of breath in the body, they overestimated durations of time compared to participants who listened to an audiobook for ten minutes. Either by improving the resources that allow us to pay more attention to time passage or by shifting our attention internally, we slow time. 

Break out the Earbuds

Though time flies when you listen to pleasant music it moves more slowly when listening to fast music. Tempo is the major factor that produces time distortions--music is judged longer with a fast than a slow tempo. Fast music is more arousing and high-arousing emotional stimuli (facial expressions, images, movies) produce a temporal lengthening effect--time moving more slowly. So turn on something fast and engaging during your weekends and then switch to something pleasant yet slow for you Monday morning commute.

What if you want to speed up time?

Multitask Like a Millennial

Media multitasking is using one media in conjunction with another, e.g., TV plus laptop, and creates the perception of time passing quickly. (Media companies get really excited about this, especially among millennials.) In a study where participants either only watched the ads or performed tasks while the ads were playing, participants who performed on-screen tasks while commercials were playing perceived time as passing more quickly compared to those just watching the commercials. 

This may have to do with gaze duration and switching. Participants switch at an extremely high rate, in one study switched between the TV and computer at an average rate of 120 switches in 27.5 minutes. Gaze duration is mostly between 1.5 and 5 seconds--78 percent of television gazes and 49 percent of computer gazes lasted less than 5 seconds. During television viewing gazes of 1.5 seconds or less are categorized as monitoring i.e., looking up at the TV to check that you're still watching Shark Week. Gazes of 1.5 - 5 seconds are categorized as orienting, i.e., looking up at the TV when characters are yelling because the great white is getting close to the boat. Neither monitoring nor orienting gazes require significant brain power, all heavily repeated behavior that causes time to speed by.

Routinize Like the Leader of the Free World

Retrospectively we view routine periods of time as taking less time than nonroutine periods of time. Obama pairs down his decisions and focuses on important stuff instead of what to wear or what to eat. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Even though Obama is the leader of the free world and my life has been about building portals that get more eyes on ads and preventing the build-up of goo (i.e., body fat, brown stuff staining my white dog's face, hard water deposits), I can relate to routinizing. Just as the sites you visit frequently load quickly in your web browser because they are cached, your brain uses less processing power for things you do repeatedly, making time seem to move faster, which is why the mornings when you get ready for work or get your kids ready for school can seem shorter each day. 

Very timey wimey.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I'm not a serial killer because Look! I have hobbies

Off to market with my umbrella
We visit Singapore for a week to decide if we want to live here and it's not a vacation because we have an agenda, more like travel for work but without the breakout sessions and stale bagels. Our beautiful hotel has a giant Nespresso machine in its exquisite lobby from 6 to 8 am. My husband and I are already awake at 5 due to jet lag, sitting across from each other on lobby sofas, sipping our coffees and tapping away on MacBooks until we walk down to the pool for breakfast at 9. 

And though were are not on vacation it is a vacation breakfast. There is fresh fruit, dried fruit, muesli, granola, seeds and nuts, baby greens, smoked salmon, freshly baked breads and muffins with local jams, pats of butter, and individual servings of Nutella that I spread on flakey croissants no bigger than the palm of my hand, so different from the giant and bland spongy things I see in American Starbucks. Nutella is everywhere in Singapore so I restrict myself to individual servings.

After breakfast our mission is recon--to see where we will buy groceries and how much toiletries cost, if riding the MRT is convenient, and where we can live with our king size bed and deep American teal blue sofa. We meet our realtor in the exquisite hotel lobby to determine neighborhoods that suit us and I tell him that I will not be working in Singapore. He asks what my leisure activities are, and then he asks again ten minutes later because I have not answered the question. 

In Los Angeles leisure is squeezed between working forty hours and commuting another ten, so after grocery shopping, cooking, walking the dog, and exercising, leisure is reading before bed, Pinterest-gazing in the wee hours before work, and an intense monthly hike. Only there are no mountains in Singapore. So I tell him that I will have to think more about leisure activities because I've been working since I was 11 and I don't know what anything else looks like. It reminds me of shopping for hiking boots in REI when the associate asked me about my comfortable shoes and I couldn't answer him either because I didn't own any. I own a few beautiful pairs of boots, sandals, and pumps and their comfort is relative but nothing is inherently comfortable

A question with which I have never been entirely comfortable is "What are your hobbies?" because have taught myself to think of days in terms of what I should do, not what I want to do. Growing up I heard how great it was to be athletic while around me everyone played team sports, so I joined basketball, volleyball, and tennis. I mostly liked tennis and at best tolerated volleyball, but I hated playing basketball. It felt so unfeminine, running up and down the court, sweaty and red-faced or waving my arms in a defensive stance wearing trunks, clunky high top sneakers, and tube socks. So I kept stats for boys basketball and went home to run with my Walkman, swim laps in my neighbor's pool, and ride my bike to watering jobs. 

If I think back to childhood fun to find my adult fun I recall laying out fall clothes on my bed, sketching each piece in colored pencil, and then cutting them out to glue onto cards--a card catalog of outfits hidden in a shoebox under my bed. Why so secretive? I didn't want to hear suggestions of someone else's fun to get outside because it's a nice day or waterski while it's still summer. 

But sports and competition are healthy! They instill values like teamwork and leadership, keep us active, and introduce us to other active people. Hobbies and interests develop creativity and confidence that can save us from binge drinking, pot smoking, and indiscriminate sex when we are young and depression and stress when we are old. The hobby doesn't matter so long as it's enjoyable for us. I remember Gretchin Rubin's secret of adulthood "Just because something is fun for other people doesn’t mean it’s fun for me, " but I still judge other's hobbies. If someone tells me she collects rabbit figurines or plays video games evenings, I feel bad for her because it sounds obsessive and antisocial. Talking about hobbies should make you sound less weird, not more so. When I meet people I talk about the fun that makes me seem well-rounded.

"I hiked the tallest mountain in Southern California with my husband."
"I swim across the bay daily."
"I cook, mostly vegan, though we're not actually vegan." 

Is that approachable enough? Does that make you comfortable? 

Though there are no mountains to hike in Singapore and no bay I can swim across daily, I am still cooking vegan. Maybe that is my new hobby, learning to be here in this new place: Cooking vegan recipes with local ingredients that I purchase in wet markets, auntie's and uncle's shop, and Chinese specialty stores, walking around the largest reservoir in Singapore with my Meetup group, and chatting with locals in line at a Hawker Center about our hobbies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Why I Don't Have Kids

Happy Anniversary, Honey!
My eight year old nephew asked me why his uncle and I don't have kids. I gave him an elevator answer about working in an office and taking naps or travelling. My niece jumped in to suggest that I should have multiple husbands. But my sister's explanation was the perfect one, "Not everybody has children." A clean, simple truth. Parents and children may see me without something while I see parents as having lost something children do not fill. 

I like my husband

I love my husband, but I also really like him. Like a lot. Sometimes on weekends when we are doing separate activities around town in the mornings I catch a glimpse of him, and for the split second that I don't realize it's him, my mind says "Hello Mr. Handsome!" And then I realize he's my Mr. Handsome. He is my favorite person ever. We are not together because we had the mutual goal of wanting to raise a family, we have chosen each other and what we have doesn't require the glue of children. 

If I ever picture the if-we-had-them kids, they are always in another room asleep while my husband and I are on the sofa drinking coffee or on the patio having a glass of wine together. My husband is an ENTJ and I am an INTJ, so we are a good if not ideal match. But INTJs and ENTJs as parents have significant challenges because children are sensitive and less capable of the rational analysis that bonds us. Children complain over and over about boredom, friends that are being mean, not liking their vegetables, and wanting things their friends have. Adults do too, but we have the luxury of walking away, usually after asking "Well did you read that book/take that class/try my suggestions we talked about?"

Children don't indemnify you

A woman asked "What about the holidays?" when I told her we were planning not to have children, which made me think about why double ovens are a terrible idea. They take up space 365 days a year but are only used Thanksgiving Day. I am not interested in a day-to-day lifestyle of raising children, so why would I raise children for the purposes of having them around for the holidays? 

I hear "What about ..." repeatedly from parents, as though having children offers security. What about when I get old? I don't have friends caring for their parents at home, but I do know families where adult children are living in homes of parents in their 50s and 60s. If 60% of young adults receive financial support from their parents, having children may threaten rather than guarantee a secure future. Meanwhile the future I save for is retirement and not education

I was warned that a decision to not have children in my 30s will be a regret in my 50s. But I am familiar with regret mostly from parents when I tell them about our travels. People without kids love Italy, people with kids love camping, but everybody seems to agree that the best time to travel, be spontaneous, and enjoy your time as a couple is prior to having children. Nobody says they regret having children!

I've never been much of a joiner

When I was 32 my physician told me that if I wanted to have children I should begin trying. My ambivalence toward raising a child was bolstered by my husband's skepticism. We were traveling to the Caribbean and Hawaii on vacations, making plans to remodel the kitchen and landscape the yard, and I was enjoying a new career as a technical writer. We were in the discussion stages of maybe possibly planning to get a puppy ... someday. A baby felt like an interruption. 

The most intense peer pressure that I ever felt in my life was to have a baby those first five years after we were married. We lived on a street where people bought houses to raise a child. My friends were having kids, my colleagues were having kids, and within my extended family my generation of cousins were having kids. It felt as though I had to make a decision quickly to have a baby if I was ever going to, not because of a something originating from me, but because of what I was experiencing around me. I was repelled by it. So I opted out. 

As an INTJ, an introvert personality type, I am used to doing things alone. Being left out of a club not only doesn't bother me, it's somewhat of a relief. True or not, I see myself as an outsider looking in on everyone else and not having kids falls right in line with that. While I do understand that the camaraderie of mothers finding a common enemy in vomit and sleeplessness offers a great deal of support and sometimes leads to lifelong friendships, I am okay making friends on the basis of shared interests (or shared disinterest.)