Yesterday marked the first day in my week-long stint of working in my company's Singapore office. Like most first days, it was fraught with nerves, and like most week-long stints, it was fraught with complete and utter exhaustion after just a few hours. Apparently my body had been falsely tricked into vacation mode the minute I got on the plane in San Francisco, and when I forced it into a pencil skirt and heels on Monday morning and plunked it down in front of a computer, it was all WOMAN, YOU HAVE BEEN LYING TO ME. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? I THOUGHT WE HAD PLANS TO LIE ON SUN LOUNGERS.
What's been most interesting so far about working in Singapore is noticing the little ways in which offices differ from each other across the world. After I had finished my cup of coffee yesterday, for instance (which comes in powdered form in a tube labeled Nescafe 3-in-1, and which immediately made me nostalgic for our time backpacking across Asia, during which Sean and I drank this kind of coffee almost exclusively), I glanced around the office kitchen for a sink to wash it up in. There was no sink. On the brink of carrying the mug down the hall to the bathroom and washing it up there with hand soap---you may laugh, but this is what we had to do at my old job in Charleston---I thought to ask one of my new co-workers if there was an alternative.
"Oh yes!" she said. "Just put it in that pail on the floor, and someone will come tonight and clean it." This, I found out when I relayed the story to my dad that night, is common practice in Asian offices: there is a person whose sole job it is to collect the brightly-colored child-sized buckets---the kind you might make sand castles with---from every kitchen on every floor of every office building, take them away, and summarily wash all the contents within them before returning them clean the next day. On the one hand, this seems like a slightly antiquated system. On the other, I bet it totally cuts down on all the passive aggressive notes left in office kitchens. Can you imagine? You could never write something obnoxious on a post-it like "in case you haven't noticed, THE DISH FAIRY DOESN'T EXIST!" because someone else would be all "uh, yes she does. Why do you think these plates disappear dirty at night and come back clean in the morning?"
In order to get to my office every morning, I have to make a journey of gargantuan proportions. It's not really a journey of gargantuan proportions, of course, but compared to my 20-minute (downhill) walk in San Francisco, it certainly seems it, not least because it involves a) public transport in a foreign country, and b) changing on public transport on a foreign country. First, you see, I get the minibus from my parents' apartment---which leaves at 7 and 37 minutes past the hour, times I find pleasingly auspicious since they both contain my favorite number---and then I get off the minibus at the public bus stop and wait for the 105 or the 106 and when I get on, I fight for a seat and then spend the half-hour journey listening to Chinatown Bus over and over on my iPod because it's the most appropriate song I can find.
My favorite thing about my ride to work is the people-watching: the wet-haired lady who runs for the bus and bounds on breathlessly when the driver pulls over and scolds her with a smile, or the gaggle of giggling women at the front who make me feel like I've just got on the school bus wearing a dorky sweater. The signs on the public buses are good too: they flash up in neon with the upcoming destinations, except the destinations, as far as I can tell, never correspond to where we actually stop. This morning, I made note of my favorite ones: "Great Eastern Mans" and "opp Youth Flying Club," and though I craned my neck, I did not see any great eastern men (or mans), nor a youth flying club (not even on the "opp" side of the street, alas.) The youth flying club, especially, remains a delightful mystery.
(Except wait! No, it doesn't! I just Googled it and it totally exists!)
On my first day yesterday, my little sister Susie very kindly offered to accompany me on the journey, bus-taking not really being my forte and the possibility of me getting lost on the way to my first day at work being very real indeed. She came all the way up in the elevator with me to my new office, and then we bid adieu at 8:50 in the morning and she rode all the way back down and got on with her day. Armed with her explicit instructions, I had promised her that I'd be able to find my own way home, and so when the elevator doors opened onto the lobby at 5:40pm that afternoon and I spilled out with the masses, I didn't immediately register that the girl in the yellow hoodie leaning against the wall was my sister.
Have you ever seen someone in a crowd when you weren't expecting to see them? At first you think you're dreaming, then hallucinating, then the victim of wishful thinking, and then you realize no, it's really them and you want to laugh with surprise and with gratitude.
Worried that I wouldn't get home okay, my sweet teenage sister had come back to my office at 5 o'clock and stood opposite the elevator doors for forty minutes, waiting for me to come out so we could get the bus home together. Whether this is a testimonial to my truly terrible navigational skills or to Susie's kindness and patience I don't know, but let's just go ahead and say it's both. Let's also go ahead and say she's getting the biggest Christmas present in my family this year, no question.