It was freakishly quiet when I woke.
And too warm.
Why wasn’t the air conditioning on?
My sleepy brain tried to make sense of whatever it was that had woken me. Was the power off, or was the zombie apocalypse upon us?
I blearily pried open an eye and looked at my laptop, seeking out the comfort of what should be a green charging light where the power cord connects to my MacBook. There was no light.
Damn it…I was going to have to wake up.
Dutifully I checked the light switches to confirm the (by now obvious) lack of power before waking Ravi.
Which is when we looked at each other and realized we had no idea who to call, or if anyone would even answer the phone, given that it’s Chinese New Year and the city is pretty much shut down.
This is one of the things that no “moving to country X” book can prepare you for. Those moments where you encounter a problem that should, in theory be an easy fix, and you are at a loss as to how to proceed. The last one of these was when I broke my ankle and Ravi and I had to figure out via phone conference exactly how one gets an ambulance for a private hospital.
In the (almost) six years that Ravi and I have lived together, we have always lived in “luxury” condos with some sort of office/concierge/security and on staff maintenance. A loss of power would either be a call to maintenance if it were just us, or to the power company if it were more of a building issue.
In Singapore, we have…
- The electricity/water company.
- A security guard (primarily his job seems to be to sit in the security shack)
- A building manager (in theory responsible for property-wide maintenance like the monthly pest control fogging)
- Our realtor (who helps us communicate with our land lady)
- Our Land Lady’s agent (only reachable via our realtor)
- Our Land Lady (only reachable via our realtor talking to her agent who talks to her)
We have a fuse box in the apartment. I messed around with it for a while, flipping switches back to green, but nothing happened.
Ravi checked the hallway, and the elevators are working, so it seems like this is a “just us” problem.
In theory, at least, it seemed like a reasonable choice to call the power company, confirm that our bill was up to date (maybe they didn’t get a check? didn’t seem likely, but a reasonable issue to rule out…and yes, of course it was up to date) and then let them know our power was off. They gave me a “why are you calling me” and told me to call the building manager.
I call the building manager who is irritated to be called while he’s in Hong Kong, and who refers me to the security guard with a great deal of irritation. Sorry, dude…no one gave me a handbook and I’m making this up as I go along.
B and Elanor show up…they’d been out getting something from a food stall nearby for B’s lunch. I ask her if the power was off when they woke up/left and she said everything had been fine. There was no “new” or “extra” thing plugged in, and no logical reason on earth why our power was blown.
My temples began to throb as my worried mind began to try to figure out what on earth to do if this wasn’t immediately fixable–hotel (call the Hilton & Conrad and use some points we’d been saving for something else, obviously), food (Little India? Mustafa–giant department store–is open, so maybe there are restaurants open, too? Ravi will be pissed by that. Is McDelivery working today? I have no freaking clue), and ventilation for the kittens and us in the meantime (the windows are better described as sliding glass doors, giving them a chance to take a 6 story leap into the pool or concrete below…NOT safe for them or the toddler…can we sneak them into the hotel with us?)
I send Ravi (who, like everyone else is off work for CNY) to the security guard, who comes back up with him. The guard looks at the same fuse box we looked at, and steps into the hall to call the building manager, who I just called. Redundant bureaucracy at its finest. He then disappears for 20 minutes without a word as to what’s happening or where he’s going or if I should renounce my atheism and just start praying for power.
I hear the beautiful electric hum and buzz as the power comes back on and the security guard rings our doorbell. He comes back in as we confirm that all the rooms have power. He then decides to patronizingly tell me how fuses are blown and how I must have plugged one thing too many in as I explain to him that “dude, nothing new or extra was plugged in. If anything, fewer things than normal were going as the tv and other such stuff was off.” He doesn’t believe me, and leaves.
I had a conversation about the whole experience via facebook with a fellow American Expat friend. I expressed how frustrating and dis-empowering this can all feel. It’s moments like today that are in some ways the most unbalancing. After almost ten months here, I mostly feel like I’ve got it together. I don’t always love everything about Singapore, but I feel (truthfully or falsely) that I more or less understand how to get what I need done. It’s these small, unanticipated moments that throw you.
You can read all the “expats guide to” and “living in” and “culture shock” books. You can make friends and find your niche. You can begin to feel confident about your life in the new country.
Then one small power outage can remind you how foreign you actually are, which is the real cause of the freak out and “damn it I just want to go home!” frustration I felt. The thing about being home, I realized when we went back for a vacation, is that it’s easy. Having grown up in that culture (hell, mostly in that state) you “just know” how to deal with the small annoyances of everyday life. I let myself have my moment of frustration and, understanding what the “I really can’t wait until the day we finally go back to the US” surge of emotion was really about, allowed myself to say it out loud.
Then I moved on, and sprawled in the path of some cool air from my air con, reminding myself that most of my friends are navigating snow drifts taller than I am and remembered that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes it’s white, hard to shovel and freezing.
But life isn’t all bad…enjoy a picture of Kerowyn…