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.

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