Foreign Office

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.

Dec 16, 2008

oh, this makes me miss miss my sister so much. she lives a continent away like yours...

Dec 16, 2008

Ahhh coffee in your Asian office. When I first moved to Hong Kong, there were no coffee houses. Coming from Australia, land of the cappuccino, this was disastrous. Every day at 10 and 3, the "tea lady" comes round and brings you tea. I asked for coffee. I got powdered coffee and condensed milk. While you are at lunch, she comes and gets the dirty cups.

At 3 she comes back with fresh tea. After a few days I realised I couldn't drink the coffee and asked for tea. For about a week I got both tea and coffee. (My cantonese wasn't good enough to say "I no longer want coffee, only tea".) She figured it out and one day quit leaving the coffee.

Very efficient indeed. No arguing over who makes the coffee, cleans the kitchen... And keeps another person gainfully employed.

Dec 16, 2008

Dirty dishes must inspire about 75 percent of all passive aggressive notes. Fresh out of college, I lived with a lady for about month who can only be described as Crazy Grandma Pat. I only had the essentials at her home, so I used her kitchen as if it were mine. Every morning, I made my cereal and then left for work.

One day I returned from work to see my cereal bowl in the sink and a typed and laminated note above the sink that said "YOUR MOTHER DOES NOT LIVE HERE." I did not routinely leave dirty bowls in the sink, but the one time I did, Crazy Grandma Pat was on it. She was correct: my mother did not live there. And a week later, neither did I.

amber of theambershow
Dec 16, 2008

How exciting!

And I love Bishop Allen!

Dec 16, 2008

I spent a few days working in Singapore this summer and was introduced to the miracle that is kopi. Specifically kopi-C which I was quickly drinking twice a day (and just as quickly working like someone shot me full of drugs ... oh, wait it was just the insane amount of caffeine). I was led to believe that the procurement of kopi at least twice a day (in a styrofoam cup which a little plastic bag/handle thing) was a Singaporean office requirement.

Dec 16, 2008

yay for sisters! my little sister is a raging bitch but at least I've got a kickass older sister to make up for it.

Dec 16, 2008

I had to wash my coffee cup in the bathroom sink at my old job too.

I love taking public transit, but always freak out when I have to do it in a new city because I don't know the nuances like I do in Chicago. (Hell, I am still learning the bus nuances here!) So to take public transit in a FOREIGN COUNTRY would make me wet myself. I would make my sister come with me for sure!

She Likes Purple
Dec 16, 2008

What Susie did for you totally made my day. How wonderful is your family?

Camels & Chocolate
Dec 16, 2008

Aww, Susie's such a sweetheart! Just thinking of a commute like that makes me tired (especially considering my daily commute is from my bed to my couch) and brings to mind that horrible walking-train-bus commute I used to have to perform from the West Village to Jersey (ew is right) that would take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours...just to work at In Touch of all places.

Dec 16, 2008

Whenever I hear about you and Susie, it makes me wish even more that I had a sister.

Dec 16, 2008

I feel in love with Singapore this summer (I'm back in America, now) jealous of you!! Enjoy it!

Dec 16, 2008

Just as I was starting to read your post, I got a mysterious call on my work phone from a Brooklyn number I didn't recognize. I thought immediately that it must be my sister, but then reminded myself that she's been in Ireland since August. I debated whether or not to answer it, and when I finally gave in and pick up the phone, my little sister was on the other end. She was calling me from a payphone in JFK just to say hello on her way home for Christmas.

And then I read this and still wonder if it was a hallucination.

Dec 16, 2008

I really enjoyed this post. It's interesting to hear how things like offices work in other countries. As for the notes, my husband's boss had to put up a sign reminding the men (including my husband) that they are responsible for cleaning up after themselves. Mexico is very male-dominant so they act like the women should do it. Not anymore!

You're sister is such a sweetie. :)

Dec 16, 2008

Best. Sister. Ever.
House of Jules

Dec 16, 2008

Welcome to Singapore! Hope you've an enjoyable trip on this festive season! =) How long would you be here in SG?

Dec 16, 2008

Congratulations that you managed to make your way through to your office safely in this busy, crazy and madness city. Having to rush and squeezed a small public transport with the rest of the people who are also rushing for work early in the morning is a PAIN! SERIOUSLY! and the transport systems here is such a pain as well! And it sounds like your office is situated at Raffles Place? =)

Kerri Anne
Dec 16, 2008

That last part made me "awh" aloud. Sisters are the best.

Dec 16, 2008

I love your observations of Singapore! I live and work here but so much of that escapes me =)

Hope you're enjoying the unusually cold weather this week...It's positively freezing in the office these days =p

Yay for Susie...that's so sweet of her...

Dec 16, 2008

GabrielLe, I'm here until the end of December. And nope, not Raffles Place!

Dec 16, 2008

Yo, Susie! You rawk, little sister!!

Dec 17, 2008

Hurray for Susie. If something is going to get you on Santa's good list, this is it.

Sanguine Spice
Dec 17, 2008

I didn't think it possible to be more overjoyed at the prospect of flying back home (yay USA!) on Friday; but your post is putting me over the top. Being reminded me of the wonder of finding someone waiting for you was a lovely thing to do Holly. THANKS!

Dec 17, 2008

Aww, go Susie, what a nice thing to do! Maybe she'll do a special Christmas edition of Yo Susie! for us if we all agree to put her at the top of our Christmas present lists?

Dec 17, 2008

You work at Orchard Road/Tanglin Road area then?

By the way, the Youth Flying Club WAS across the road from the bus stop you mentioned, housed in one of the old colonial houses surrounded by tall grass. The building now houses the restaurant La Petit Salut if I'm not wrong =p

Dec 17, 2008

Oh, that reminds me of my sister, she would totally do that, too! Hope things are going well and dying for pics of Singapore!

Dec 17, 2008

Susie totally rocks it as a baby sistah! Best! Sister! Ever!

Dec 17, 2008

Thanks a lot, Susie, for making me cry at work! Seriously, that is the sweetest thing ever.

Office Coffee
Dec 17, 2008

I had a similar experience during a short stint in Singapore from Australia.

Most office coffee machines in Australia make real european style coffee with freshly ground beans and fresh milk in the espresso style, so those little 3 in 1 packs just didn't work for me and converted a Coffee Loving caffeine addict into a green tea drinker.

Great story... Brings back memories indeed

Dec 18, 2008

Your sister sounds really sweet. That makes me wish for a sister so much! I haven't worked in an office environment anywhere else apart from the US, but I have been to plenty of offices around the world and I find it quite interesting to observe their going ons. Back home in Nepal, they also have someone who brings in your tea/coffee order (which comes in real mugs) and comes back to collect them after you are done.