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Adapting and Thriving

While everything was brand new to me in the first two weeks here, I’ve now settled into a routine and am recognising more individual faces among the nearly 200 staff at the studio. Everybody is still really friendly and helpful and it’s been such a good working experience so far. As I’m helping to set things up and get them moving on this new show, I don’t have as much contact time with the animators as I’d like, but there’s just so much that needs to be done first before I can do that. It’s a lot of work, but it’s going well and we’re making progress – largely because our new Production Manager, Dianne, has arrived! She’s from Jamaica and is really cool to work with. At least now the load is shared a bit and she also knows Toon Boom well, so the technical side is easier too now that there’s someone to bounce ideas around with. Most of the last few weeks has been working out what we have and what we don’t, and setting up tracking docs, pipelines, workflows and naming conventions so that we can move forward as swiftly as possible. I’ve been having fun with Google Sheets, as I do, and have built some new functionality into some things that will make the production staff happy and save them a fair bit of typing. I can’t take any photos inside the studio, but here’s what it looks like out front:

I’m also acclimatising to the oppressive heat and humidity here, which is something I never thought was possible. I still prefer to be in the air-conditioned confines of anything, but at least going outside is much less of an assault on my body now as it was four weeks ago.

The haze has been really bad for a while now and this past week is the first time I’ve actually seen a colour in the sky other than white or black! The Indonesian president has set a two week deadline to stop the fires and has got in some help from Singapore, China and Russia to help extinguish the blazes. Here’s hoping they actually mean it and get it done!

I moved into the new house which is now shared with Dianne and Dexter (who’s here for a month doing some 3d pipeline stuff) and then Chris arrives at the end of the month. It’s the first time in 13 years I’ve shared a space with people that are not my partner, so it’s a bit weird having to shower with the door closed again after so long 😉 There are enough cupboards, shelves in the fridge and days in the week that we can all keep our food separate and get our washing done without getting in each other’s way. We have two buggies at the moment for the three of us to get to work and back. We lose one next week but hopefully I’ll have a motorbike by then to get around on instead.

We went shopping a couple of weeks ago for the first time and it was a great experience. The malls here are just like any other malls in any other part of the world – big, clean and full of things you want but don’t always need. The one closest to us is Kepri mall and it has pretty much everything you can get back home, so it’s quite comforting in a way. I did find some good coffee and donuts too, and even tried their avocado cappuccino this week and it was pretty darn delicious.

We also went to the open market at Batu Besar. This is the real Asia that I was hoping to see! It’s basically rows and rows of fresh produce and friendly faces in tight spaces. The veggies and fruit aren’t what we’d see in a shop in terms of visual quality, but they’re real, tasty and very, very affordable. As we get fed twice a day at the studio, I only need to worry about weekend meals and buying fruit at the open market is a treat. This week I got some rambutan (related to the litchi) and some apples that taste like roses, neither of which I’ve had before. There’s also a meat section to the market, with mostly chicken and fish which are as fresh as you could possibly imagine. They’re prepared on-site and the food moves really quickly as so many people buy their daily food there instead of doing massive monthly trips to the shops like we do back home. Again, there’s a personal connection here that’s missing in the West, where you can get to know the fruit sellers, and who has the best garlic and what the best day of the week to get fresh pineapples (the answer is every day, by the way!)

Dianne also got some breadfruit which is super, super weird. So you take this big fruit and you burn it in the coals of a fire (or on the gas stove) for a few hours. When it’s done you cut off the burnt outsides and eat the insides. It feels like chicken and has the fibres of a big mushroom, but tastes like neither. Very strange, but very good.

I spent the weekend in Singapore last week and had an absolute blast. The main reason I went was for the Worldwide Photo Walk as it would be a great chance to see parts of the city in a semi-organised manner. I stayed in Chinatown (as the walk was happening around that area) and I can’t begin to describe the vibe and the energy in that part of town. We’d taken a late ferry from the island to Singapore, and then the MRT to the Chinatown stop. Going up the escalators to street level – right into the busiest market I’ve ever seen – was a sock to the system, in the best possible way. It was so surreal going from the tiled, clinical underground to Pagoda Street, which is just bristling with life and colours and smells and sights and people and stuff! So much stuff! But everyone is, again, so super friendly and pleasant despite the apparent madness. I can highly recommend that as a really good way to arrive into Chinatown for a full-blown sensory overload. I loved it.

I stayed at the Santa Grand Hotel Chinatown (not to be confused with the Santa Grand Hotel Lai Chun Yuen, which is in the same street and has the same owners. The room was okay – I only booked a single as that’s all I’d need, but I’m not used to short beds and short sheets! The shower was also a comical affair as I couldn’t stand upright and barely had enough room to turn around in without accidentally turning the water off when I did. I had booked a room with a window so when I saw the curtains I immediately opened them to see the view… Um, yeah.

The photo walk itself was great. There were about 30 of us and we all gathered at 07h00 and finished at around 10h30. We started on the outskirts of Chinatown in Telok Ayer Park and walked through it to the Maxwell Food Centre, past a number of temples, through Smith Street (which is basically an outdoor covered food mall) and along Keong Saik Road. We finished on the 50th floor sky bridge of the Pinnacle @Duxton for some amazing vantage points. I’d say amazing views, but the haze was really bad which made seeing far a bit impossible.

The best part of the photo walk, for me, was the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. I took some photos at the temple, but then spent half an hour just sitting there, contemplating life, the universe and everything. As one does. I’m not a religious person at all, but there’s something that’s always fascinated me about Eastern religions and in watching these people coming and going, I think I finally worked it out. In most Western religions, there’s a person standing up in front of a crowd, telling them what to do and think. Watching the people coming in, it struck me that they have a direct connection to their deity. They can talk to him directly without needing an intermediary. There was a woman I watched praying in the open for about 10 minutes, and you could see there was something troubling her in the way she was praying. But when she’d finished that part, she move on to giving thanks and it was a rare, beautiful connection that I’ve never actually seen before. All of the Western churches I’ve been to have had this wall between the congregation and the deity but here was this woman baring her soul out in the open with no judgement from anyone else and no person acting like a conduit. I was genuinely touched by this and had a few moments of tears thinking of my love back home and how the connection we have is so direct and without judgement. (Except her collection of Bon Jovi CD’s – that deserves to be judged!)

I went back to the hotel for a bit (and to do some work for another client) but then went out on another walkabout in the city for a couple of hours. When I got back to the hotel I couldn’t figure out why my legs were so tired. I checked the Health app on my phone and it turns out I did over 20,000 steps and walked nearly 15kms! That explains it! Singapore is such a great city to walk around in and I didn’t feel that I was not safe in any of the areas I went to, which is a great feeling. I’m not suggesting there are no issues, but it just feels good not having to constantly look over your shoulder or make sure there are other safe people close by in case you find some trouble. The haze had gotten really bad by the time I got back and breathing is definitely a challenge when you’ve walked so far in the smoke. Probably should’ve taken a mask with, but too late now. These are some of the things I came across on my second walk:

I also discovered a fantastic place to get coffee from in Chinatown. Nanyang Old Coffee has a little museum to the one side and a coffee shop on the corner. Great staff, great coffee! I know that Truth in Cape Town was voted the best coffee shop in the world – and it is good! – but I do think Nanyang is better. They also do a proper iced coffee – not the usual Asian style of just adding ice cubes to bitter coffee. Highly, highly recommended.

After finding the DC Comics Cafe on my last trip to Singapore, this time I found the Tintin shop which was really cool to see. Everything is collectable and therefore expensive, which is right up my alley. Only problem is, in Singapore expensive means really expensive! I was looking at the prices thinking ok that’s a bit expensive but totally worth it, then realised I still had to multiply by 10 for the price in Rands. Instantly not affordable. I also saw the Charlie Brown Cafe that night while waiting for a cab, and will try get there again on my next trip. Popular themed shops and cafes are apparently quite the thing here.

As the Rugby World Cup is on, we went to an Irish pub called Muddy Murphy’s to watch the SA vs Scotland game that night. The place was packed and beer was flowing in every direction you can imagine. And it’s expensive. A Coke cost SG$6.50, which is about R65! A not very good beer cost about R150! Apart from that initial shock, the other thing that struck me was that I’d met so many wonderful people so far who were all sober. Now I was in a pub with a bunch of expat belligerent drunks and all hell was about to break lose. Two Scots got pissy with each other and started threatening to beat each other up. It was more exciting than the game, so I live-tweeted about it which was really entertaining. I was a bit afraid to shout for SA for a while because of the tension, but once they’d fallen over themselves and eventually calmed down to the point that everybody is your new best friend, it was all fine.

I went to get some coffee and breakfast from Nanyang on Sunday morning again. Coffee comes out really quickly, but food can take a few minutes so I grabbed a table outside while I waited. When I got up to get my food and returned, there was a group of people who thought my table was empty and were about to sit when they realised I was coming back. But there was nowhere else available so I said they could join me. Kenny is Scottish and we (South Africa) had beaten them the previous night in the rugby, which he was okay with after an initial deep sigh. He’s lived in these parts for about 20 years and the daughter of a good friend is just starting a 2 month post-school backpacking holiday with her boyfriend, so he was showing them around and getting them ready for their journey. They’re both vegetarians, so they recommend a few good places to go which I’ll try when I go back next month. This is the beauty of a place like this where people are travelling and moving through – you can make a quick connection over coffee and have a good chat, then move on. Really lovely people.

I met a colleague for lunch on Sunday at a restaurant called Green Dot, in Paya Lebar Square. All vegetarian food, but prepared in such a way that it looks and feels like meat. Very tasty and very affordable – a bento assortment is SG$7.90 (about R79) and is well portioned for my, um, slightly-larger-than-Asian frame. Seriously tasty stuff!

It was good to see a few different areas of Singapore on this trip as I’d really only seen the main city part before. Chinatown is amazing and as I said before, so incredibly full of life! The city centre is as you’d expect, quite business oriented. Paya Lebar, on the other hand, is about halfway back to the airport in a slightly more industrial looking part of town, but is frequented largely by young studenty people. Again, getting around is ridiculously easy via bus or MRT and there are stations regularly enough that you don’t have to walk in the heat too much. Also, many of the stations also have shopping malls attached to them, so it’s a convenient way to make arrangements to meet people. These are some of the buildings and sights around Paya Lebar Square:

On my way back to the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, I came across a random sight in the parking lot. There were a large number of tuned/modified/souped up cars and they were doing a timed gymkhana on a mini track in the parking lot.

When I got back to Batam, I actually managed to get a shot I’ve been trying to get right for the last three weeks. There’s a spot on the golf course from which you can see the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal clearly and watch the ferries coming in and going out. I’ve either been passed there when there are no ferries, there’s too much haze or I’ve made the rookie mistake of having my camera out in the air-conditioned room before putting it in my bag. The problem is the camera and lens stay cold, so when you pull it out into the heat here, the lens completely mists up in a few seconds and it takes about 10 minutes for it to warm up enough and the fog to burn off. Anyhoo, I finally got it right and managed to grab these:

I went for a walk in the village we’re staying in on Sunday and managed to get some better pics of the beach and stuff. For those interested, the shot of the forest is a stitch of 37 images.

One thing that I mentioned earlier is the fact that it’s so difficult being away from loved ones for an extended period of time. Which is why I’m picking up on so many of the little personal connections and general friendliness around here. After being together for five and a half years and not spending a single night apart, I’ve now been away for four weeks exactly. There’ve been days I’ve wanted to pack up and go home, but I can’t leave these wonderful people in the lurch like that. Thankfully technology makes it easier to be in almost constant contact. WhatsApp and Skype have been massively useful over the past month and will remain so going forward. It’s amazing that we’re able to still have a conversation every day about big things and little things, as if we were together in the same room. I don’t think I would have survived without that. What also helps is that when I unpacked my suitcase I found that a certain someone had slipped a surprise note into it. It now sits next to the bed and I read it every night before I sleep and every morning when I wake up. Sometimes it makes me sad, knowing the distance, but mostly it makes me happy and joyful knowing that my time here is finite and I will go home soon. It’s really awesome to be here and I am loving it, but doing it alone, without the love of your life? That’s really tough. The next adventure will not be like this one… It will be a fully shared experience.

Some pics of things mentioned above”