I enthusiastically embraced what I think of as the Lebanese spirit. Distilled over many centuries of being at war and in the path of invaders or retaliators, it’s a simple concept: the important things are uncertain, so just have a good time wherever you are, with whatever you have. Surround yourself with glossy magazines and shiny things. Expend your energy on the colour of your walls. Get worked up about the texture of cushion covers. Worry only about the alignment of rugs. The rest will be history anyway.
So all through October, I flung myself into setting up my hard-won flat. No sleeping on a mattress for six months this time round; it was going to be visitor-ready from the start (though, come to think of it, the mattress-furnished flat had visitors plentifully and often. Perhaps it was only my head that needed furnishing, but it’s too late now).
All day, every day, last thing at night, first thing in the morning, I sent and received messages about bookshelves, wardrobes, sofas and beds with strangers from Craigslist and Gumtree. In the evenings, I visited lovely houses to look at stuff. The notes function on my phone became well-thumbed. Ikea catalogues were attacked with Post-Its. Carrefour, Best Denki, Mustafa, Courts and Mega Discount were scoured for the best-priced appliances. I made obsessive notes, took incessant measurements, updated tireless Excel sheets.
By the end of the month, I’d travelled all the Metro lines from end to end and seen parts of Singapore I doubt I’d have seen any other way. Some of it I saw from the cab of a truck. After many arguments with various men-with-vans on the subject of carrying stuff up flights of stairs, my BFF of the time was a tiny, cheery jockey who was moonlighting in his lunch break as a van driver.
I met some nice people that I will never see again, considering the only reason they were selling is because they were leaving town. I encountered startling meanness, equally amazing generosity and much weirdness. The lady who sold me her plants wanted them picked up at once. But when I got there, she made me coffee, waved me to a chair and explained leisurely (in sign language) how her husband was upset that she hadn’t learnt English after a year in Singapore. It turned out my text messages were with the husband, not her. She then lavished upon me a bird cage and extensive crockery, including the cup I was drinking from.
Another day, an Argentinian diplomat was ridiculously unbending on the phone about the price of a high-end food processor, but had, when I arrived to get it, also included a crock pot, full set of baking dishes and a cookie jar. The only extra thing I paid for was a cake plate that her little kid wanted to sell me for a dollar.
My cash flow situation was soon suffering from what my brother calls the Daiso Effect –where nothing costs more than two dollars so you fling things recklessly into your cart and end up spending some 200 anyway.
I cannot believe how small a budget I’d been working with or how much was possible with so little. It was a lot of work of course, but with every new thing I managed for myself, I walked a little taller, felt a little more capable, made this city a little more mine.
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