In Edinburgh daylight is slow to come. I stumble around my flat, my body avoiding door frames and shelves, my fingers instinctively finding light switches in the dark. I can hear mice scurrying behind the skirting boards, in those still, wakeful hours stolen by jetlag. It’s almost comforting.

I have been back from Asia for three days. On Wednesday I crashed, literally, at a dreary airport hotel in Heathrow, wrecked with fatigue, exasperation at having missed my connecting flight, the sorrow of goodbyes. A mirror image of my trip out a year and a half ago. It is like being made to spin on yourself for several hours, then being shoved forward and asked to run in a straight line. The world, this new world of cold and grey, of strange acrid and smoky smells, is this my world? Everything is surprising and slightly off. I open the tap and ice cold water flows out. I cast around for somewhere to hide my food, then remember there are no ants to eat it. My skin is dry and stinging. There are no bottles of distilled water in the room, because tap water is good enough to drink. In the morning I wander to the nearest cash point, the cold biting at my skin through the inadequate layers of clothing. I marvel at the thick fog, because I had completely forgotten that fog existed.

For a few days now I have been reeling from the shock of this transplantation. I’ve caught myself longing for the days of slow travel, wishing I’d had weeks to acclimatise myself to the thought of going home, to soothe my mind and body with the slow progress of clouds on endless waves. Everything here is similar and yet changed, familiar but foreign, same same but different. The city, my beloved, sparkly, blustering Edinburgh, is greyer and dirtier than I remember. Dark corners and old men smell of urine and despair. The high street seems broken by the endless, aborted tramworks and the spectre of the recession. Everyone looks so pale, so sickly, bundled up as they are in shapeless, colourless coats and grim expressions. After a year and a half my feet trace the map of the city centre on their own; old routines and habits resurface slowly.

I miss the Siem Reap of ten days ago, the sweet salty taste of caramel cashew nut ice cream, the semi-darkness of the airport during the afternoon’s blackouts, the quiet, the warmth. I miss, viscerally, the Singapore I couldn’t stand to live in, the ridiculous glowy glowering mass of the Merlion over the bay, fatty porky lechon on the Esplanade, cold fresh coconut juice, falling asleep in the flickering lights by the pool as the city whispers and thrums around me.

I am, clearly, a miserable moaning git. I whine, relentlessly, about my trunk full of diamond shoes. I have the freedom and means to live and work in at least 28 countries, a passport filled with memories and possibilities, friends and family who envelop me in their warmth and shelter.  In a few days I start a writing course at Curtis Brown, and the thought fills me with pride and lightness and joy. There is no time for sadness, or regret, no room for self indulgence. At night, in the dark, I let the fatigue sink into my limbs, weighing me deep into the blankets, anchoring me from what is pulling at me this way and that, here and there.

It’s easy to find most things in Singapore. Good bread? Cedele or Marketplace. Large bags of pecans or giant tubs of ghee? Mustafa. Chanel or Gucci anything? Just turn around. Theeeeere you go.

But where does one find more unusual, useful things, like, say, nails, floor polish, or specialist light bulbs? The Handyman Centre, that’s where. Tucked on the 4th floor of the desolate Shaw House Shopping Centre on Orchard Road, it’s Singapore’s answer to Home Depot or B&Q. In miniature. And a bit messy. With terrible lighting.

Still, it was comforting to find a place for people who still know how to do things with their hands. Things that don’t involve swiping at an iphone or voucher collecting. The husband and wife team were super friendly and helpful, and within minutes I was happily clutching a non UV light bulb in my febrile hand. Success!

A little notice on the window said they were moving premises at the beginning of 2012, so if anyone knows where they’re headed, do let me know!

Where: 1 Scotts Road, #04-07 Shaw Centre, Singapore, 228208, Tel +65 737 9592

Tip: If it’s still at this location, it’s a bit tricky to find… walk through the main entrance of Isetan at Shaw House. Look for the blue sign to Shaw Centre and follow the yellow brick road arrow.

Kickapoo. Joy Juice.

No idea what it tastes like but I could use a swift kick just about now.

Knitting isn’t the first hobby that springs to mind when you live in sticky, sweaty Singapore, but towards the end of my stay there I got a real urge to knit, triggered by my flatmate bringing home some beautiful soft skeins of ivory wool yarn from a trip to the US. Spotlight has a decent enough selection: lots of acrylics and cottons, some pure wool, mostly Australian, and that awful novelty yarn that knits up to something that looks a little bit like Animal from the muppets. Hippy grossness.

What I really wanted was cashmere, soft heavenly cashmere, to make something beautiful that could last a lifetime. I’d salivated at the online selection at the Wholesale Yarn Store, where a kilo and a half of cashmere goes for a measly $400, but my needs were more immediate. I needed yarn, stat, like a granny going through withdrawal. So one drizzly afternoon, my flatmate and I headed off to Bukit Merah, where I’d heard tales of a mystical yarn warehouse with a range unsurpassed by anything else the island has to offer.

We looked at each other anxiously when the taxi dropped us off at Kewalram House, in front of one of these gloomy light industrial estates that suburban Singapore is dotted with. We eventually found Ondori, past some loading docks and abandoned pallets, on the ground floor of the building. At first the welcome was a bit icy – what were we doing there? What did we want? But the sales assistants soon mellowed out and were pulling out samples and accessories for us and enthusing over the various types of needles on offer.

We spent a good half hour rummaging through the shelves and boxes. Most of it was weather appropriate: acrylics and cotton mixes, some bamboo yarns, some wool, most of them in a light weight most suitable for baby projects. There was some chunkier, brightly coloured wools on one shelf, and lovely pure cashmere yarn on offer but at over $200 for a box of 10 balls, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. The bargain boxes had some really good deals if you aren’t looking for anything specific – my flatmate walked out with a big bag of deep green pure wool for $40.

A trip out to Ondori may not be worth it if you just want to browse, but it’s one of those enchantingly surreal little pockets of oddball Singapore that I loved discovering towards the end of my stay.

Where: Kewalram House #01-06, 8 Jalan Kilang Timor, Singapore 159305. The number 14 bus goes there from Orchard Road – catch it at the bus stop behind H&M.

Website: Not in stock.

Tips: Bring plenty of cash as they don’t accept credit cards. And combine with a trip to Ikea down the road to justify the trek!

 

 

 

 

It was a hot and bright Saturday morning; the woman stood in the covered walkway linking the MRT Station to Jurong East Central. She was veiled, clothed in something yellow and pistachio green, a slim figure standing by a tattered cardboard box at her feet. Curry puffs, she said, two for one dollar, and I smiled at the thought that the only unlicensed pedlar I’ve seen in Singapore was selling tasty snacks rather than crack or knock off Raybans.

I left Singapore less than a month ago, but already these memories are fading. Is my mind making a concerted effort to forget, to erase? I feel doors closing with every passing day, blurring the edges of places I used to frequent, tucking away the small routines and rituals of every day life into somebody else’s memory box. It’s hard to make sense of that shiny, suffocating life here, in the dust and casual mess of provincial Cambodia.

I want to hold those moments close, to keep their colour and taste and feel, stop them from fading like old polaroids.

The woman handed me a thin red plastic bag. The curry puffs inside were small, about the length of a finger, the pastry fresh and crispy. I tasted creamy potato, sweet peas, spiciness, the taste of Singapore, two for one dollar, somewhere by the side of the road.

Where: Near Jurong East MRT Station. On a Saturday. Maybe.

Tip: Buy more than 2. And report back on how the sardine puff tasted.

 

In my (limited) experience, the best fried dumplings are at Tian Jin Fong Kee.

The uncle is grumpy, the dumplings tender and crisyp, and for a few dollars you will get a giant plate of them to share.

Where: People’s Park Food Centre, near Chinatown MRT

Website: No website, also can.

Tip: Bite carefully. These mofos are piping hot and will second degree burn your palate if you’re too eager.

Avert your eyes from the bandaged finger. Also, don't cut butter with a ceramic knife

Yes, yes, I know, Kinokuniya isn’t exactly a secret destination in Singapore. It’s a huge happy place filled with books, books and more books, on everything from macaron making to Bali gardening to lino printing. All exhorbitantly priced, but if you’re a dirty book perv that’s hardly going to matter, is it?

The branch at Ngee Ann City, however, has an excellent French section. There’s a very decent selection of new releases and classics, probably edited by the very French libraire who will happily talk you through the merits of any book. Best of all is a surprisingly huge section (comparatively) reserved to comics. There are classics (Spirou, Tintin, Lanfeust etc.) and a carefully thought out shelf of more obscure editions, many relevant to the region, like L’Annéee du Lièvre or Chroniques Birmanes from my favourite author Guy Delisle. *Rubs thighs, counts pennies*

Where: Several branches around town, the largest is at Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya shopping centre).

Website: http://www.kinokuniya.com.sg/

Tips: The Privilege card gives you 10% off year round for the modest (cough) price of $21.40. Or you could just get a kindle, dude. You can spend all the money you save at the Paul bakery that’s about to open right next door.