Living abroad in Singapore with her husband and five children has definitely presented Antonia Kidman with its share of challenges, mainly in the form of heat, but she is all praise for the island country that has captured her heart in unexpected ways.
There are two things I can be certain of in Singapore. First, the sun will rise at 7am and set at 7pm every day of the week, every week of the year. Secondly, on most days the mercury hovers within the same range, which means there is little to mark seasonal change. Such is life on the Equator and as Singapore sits one degree north of the Equator when it comes to climate, every day is like ground hog day. While this may sound monotonous there are advantages to such predictability: it always feels like summer - although it is often cloudy I am never affected by those bleak weather blues, more wardrobe space - my winter wardrobe has quickly become redundant and that means there is plenty more room for light, summer dresses and finally the thing I really love is that almost every night it is warm and balmy - creating the perfect ambience for eating outdoors.
But life in the tropics has resulted in adjustments to my lifestyle. The searing heat makes it difficult to be active in the daytime. I use the early mornings to exercise and usually before the sun rises, I take our toddler, Nicholas, to the park or for a walk, but always before 10am, and in true Singaporean style I’ve discovered an appreciation for anything located inside the air-conditioned comfort of a shopping mall. Coffee shops, playcentres, even the new Botantic Gardens, which boast a ‘cool air’ component, are all the more appealing if located inside and away from the stifling heat and humidity.
The kids’ lives have altered too. The hot weather means there are plenty of swimming pools in Singapore and it is a year-round activity; however, as pool fences are not mandatory, it is due to both safety and accessibility that their swimming skills have been fast-tracked. Although lots of kids play Rugby and soccer, our kids are not so keen to spend their weekends running around a football field in 35 degrees; instead, they prefer basketball, tennis and our eldest son has just taken up boxing. Despite the heat, I’m not a big consumer of air-conditioning. We live in a house that is set on a rise and naturally attracts a lovely cross breeze, so I am loath to close it up during the day. However, by mid-afternoon it gets quite warm and it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything too physical. Historically, afternoons in the tropics are reserved for sleeping and this is still evident in parts of Singapore. On my daily walk to pick my daughter up from school I regularly pass by groups of foreign workers, mostly from places like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, taking temporary relief from heat by sleeping on the footpaths. These men provide the bulk of the labour for Singapore’s booming construction industry and work from dawn until dusk in heavy clothing. Their physical endurance and tolerance for the heat never ceases to astound me.
I have always liked the old-fashioned idea of a parasol as a sun protector; however, on the streets of Sydney it is hard not to feel conspicuous when using an umbrella this way. In Singapore wearing a hat or light shawl for protection makes me swelter, so an umbrella is an absolute necessity. I won’t go outside between the hours of 10am and 5pm without one and even our five-year-old daughter, Sybella, has started to use hers. But by evening the harshness of the climate subsides and this is when Singapore is really beautiful. As the sun drops and a breeze picks up, it is lovely to walk with the kids down to our local market and experience the commotion and vibrancy as the hawker’s prepare for their nighttime trade. The mouth-watering scent of food being stir fried, the groups of men enjoying animated conversations as they gather around tables and drink beer and local kids riding their bikes or playing on the swings make this evening ritual one of my favorite things to do and the moment of the day when I really do savour our experience of living in Singapore.
As the sun drops and a breeze picks up, it is lovely to walk with the kids down to our local market ...
The Simple Things by Antonia Kidman and Sally Collings; ABC Books; $35