Here at Summertime Publishing, Shelley (aka Disparate Huisvrouw) runs our reviewing team out of Vancouver. She is constantly on the look out, both for new markets for our team of budding expat writers, and for new folk to join the team. In short, they get a free copy of one of our newly released books in exchange for an article or review.
Lauren Keith is part of the team. Many members are bloggers, which means we know them by their ‘blog handles’ rather than their real names. Lauren is AGrumpyBrit. Don’t you just love that? She runs a blog called Reflections of an Ang Mo from her new home in Singapore. In case you are wondering, Ang Mo, is a slightly derogatory term for white person.
I started blogging this year and I am still trying to work out why.
I moved from the UK to Singapore in January 2013 and someone suggested that I write a blog, but the idea didn’t take hold at first. What would I write about for a start? I’m just a grumpy Brit who happened to move abroad to work – albeit at a week’s notice, armed with only $400, and a slightly bulging suitcase.
However, a few months later, having settled in to my new home and job, I found myself at a loose end one morning.
I’m lucky enough not to start work until after lunch three days a week; so what to do with all this free time I had suddenly gained (apart from explore, and travel)? And so Reflections of an Ang Mo was born.
I guess boredom was probably a major factor in why I started writing (I like to keep busy) and isn’t that why so many expats turn to blogging? I found those first couple of months strange, and at times, lonely, having so many new experiences, but so far away from the people I would usually share them with.
But if boredom was a factor in my blog’s beginning, it is certainly not a reason for its continuance. Reflections of an Ang Mo is a mix of reviews, posts about my travels, sightseeing, general reflections regarding life in Lion City, anecdotes from work (as a teacher, the funny things that children come out with never ceases to amaze me!) plus anything else that interests me at the time. I guess it’s sort of like an online diary of my life abroad – things I don’t want to forget or things that have struck me as an expat living in Singapore.
I find writing very therapeutic and recording aspects of my life in Southeast Asia helps me to appreciate it even more. This was especially true of the early days, before I’d found my feet, and it still applies whenever I am feeling a little homesick. When I look back on some of the amazing things I’ve been lucky enough to experience here, it’s hard to regret my decision to move half way across the world on a whim. In fact, since I began documenting things via my blog I’ve become markedly less, well, grumpy… And I’ve learnt so much in the short time that I have been blogging – not least what an RSS feed is!
By far the most rewarding thing about blogging, however, has been the opportunities that have opened up as a result of it and the connections made. I’ve met several great people whose paths I probably wouldn’t have crossed otherwise. It’s also been interesting to hear people’s views on the topics I have posted on, especially as they often differ from my own – it’s allowed me to see things from an entirely different perspective. And it’s also reassuring to learn that I’m not alone in missing Boots (I’m sorry Singapore, but Watsons and Guardian just aren’t the same)!
By Lauren Keith
Last weekend we went to an afternoon concert given by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. They were playing Mahler’s 5th and a piano concerto by Haydn. I was vaguely familiar with the Mahler though I knew and recognised only the adagietto. I hadn’t a clue about the Haydn but we went because it was over the road from our temporary apartment and because we’d move out in less than a week and because we could. It was only ten quid each too, so a real bargain.
Unsure of how I’d cope with such a long concert of unfamiliar music I took along my notebook and pen.
During the first movement I found myself compelled to write down what the music made me see. I saw an army of soldiers on horseback, muskets loaded, led by a drummer, charging into battle. When the movement reached a close, I immediately regretted what I had done. By taking notes I had not really experienced the music. I had neither listened properly, nor taken the time to study the musicians, how their chests, bodies, limbs and bows moved with the music.
So, for the next movement I decided to close my eyes. Ouch! That’s a dramatic movement too and I found it way too loud. So, I did an experiment. I wondered if by opening my eyes I’d lower the impact of the sound. It worked! But the moment I started watching the orchestra and listening, I lost the experience, the essence of simply listening to the music. I found a solution, and stared with soft focus eyes at my skirt and thus could really hear the music.
By the adagietto I was ready to try and listen with eyes closed again. I knew it would not deafen me and, as the bit I knew, I’d really enjoy it. Oh boy, did I enjoy it, feeling the vibrations and noticing how they moved in my body. It was sublime, reaching those places in my heart that only fine music, beautifully played, can reach. Ian thought I’d fallen asleep! This was by far the most delicious way to enjoy an adagio.
Of course, as soon as the concert was over I opened my notebook to record my findings. Can’t help myself, you see.
I’d realised that our senses are generally divided up between those in use and that indeed, if I closed my eyes, my hearing became more acute. I was like a gleeful child with my discovery.
The next day, I saw I’d missed Eva László-Herbert’s interview on Lost in Transition, led by Dr Paulette Bethel. Eva is a friend of mine and a wordsmith to the core. I listened to the repeat show that was still online and was blown away with her words and at times was moved to tears by her erudition and eloquence. I reached for a pen to write down some of her wisdom and immediately lost the gist of the next sentence. Her best three words were these: ‘paper is patient’. Genius.
Eva is a simultaneous interpreter and I have no clue how she can listen to what is being said while expressing what was just said in another language, but I digress. I may be a woman and supposedly able to multitask but I simply can’t listen and write at the same time. Nor can I listen and read as I went on to discover.
After 45 minutes of Eva’s one-hour talk I noticed an App button was jumping up and down from the dock on my computer. I felt compelled to take a look – and immediately lost the thread of her conversation.
When I consider how many evenings I allow myself to pick up any Facebook messages or Whatsapps while I am watching a film, or how youngsters are constantly messaging their friends when at the dinner table, I realise there is no way we can be engaged in reality while we are engaged in something else.
Which is why I hereby vow not to take a notebook with me when I do something that really inspires me, like go for a walk in nature or listen to an author being interviewed. I know for sure, now, that by writing and listening or writing and experiencing at the same time I will lessen the experience of being in the moment and that my writing will suffer as a result.
I am a habitual note taker, so I am not quite sure how I will cope and if I will remember the important bits later. But somehow, I think that anything I do remember later, like the best line from a play or a great piece one of my students wrote, was worth remembering. So then, I will write it down.
I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to stop writing and stop using social media for a moment and really start to experience the inspiration that comes your way.
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