Adventures of Living Abroad: Unexpectedly Stumped and Pleasantly Surprised

Last week started slowly.  And by slowly, I mean “So Boringly That I Basically Wrote a Blog Post About Tennis Balls“.  [Which you should go read, by the way.  There’s quality stuff in there, I tell ya.]

On Monday, I worked (and rolled a tennis ball around on my foot – *ahem* go read the tennis ball post already*ahem*), and took a day off from serious exercise.  I thought KMN would be at work through dinner, so I cooked up a 1.5-person-sized amount of pastina to enjoy all for myself.  [Someday soon, I will write a pastina post.  I was a late-in-life convert to pastina, but there’s no going back.  Stick around for that post. You won’t regret it, I promise.]  When KMN surprised me by arriving home just as I was about to sit down to eat, I realized I wouldn’t be gorging myself on the whole pot-full, and instead, we each enjoyed 75% of a portion, along with a nice big salad.  Thanks for encouraging responsible eating, honey.

There *was* this excitment:  Pick up your just-filled squeezy water bottle, tip it back for a drink, squeeze...and pour the entire thing down the front of your shirt because you didn't screw the lid on properly.  On the plus side, my shirt was well hydrated.

There *was* this excitement: Pick up your just-filled squeezy water bottle, tip it back for a drink, squeeze…and pour the entire thing down the front of your shirt because you didn’t screw the lid on properly.

On Tuesday, KMN coaxed me out for a later afternoon trail run at MacRitchie.  I generally don’t prefer to run in the evenings, but it’s a rare day when he’s free by 6 PM, so I ditched my gym plans and off we went.  The run was actually quite lovely – there was a cool breeze, and the trails were much quieter than they are in the morning.  I enjoyed this rare chance to chat and catch up with each other while there was still daylight in the sky. When we got back, and I pulled an “I’m too overheated to think about food, let’s just have leftovers (you) and fruit (me) for dinner”.  This happens to me occasionally, and as long as it’s only once in awhile, I excuse myself from consuming a perfect post-workout protein/carb mix, and just make sure I have a well-rounded breakfast the next day.  Don’t tell the Refueling Police, OK?

Wednesday….well, Wednesday was made more exciting by several “expat moments”.  By now, I’m generally pretty comfortable in Singapore on a day-to-day basis.  But there are still things that are confusing, scary, or intimidating – sometimes expected, sometimes totally unexpected.  And sometimes, something that seems difficult or “scary” actually turns out to be nothing at all.  Wednesday was a great example of both of these situations.

Expectation: Simple.  Reality: Frustrating.
I was at the local supermarket, picking up some ingredients for dinner, when I remembered that I wanted to purchase some kind of anti-itch cream.  I’m either having an allergic reaction to something my knee touches regularly, or else we have a very industrious knee-loving bitey-thing in our apartment, because my knee is covered with big, red, itchy bumps that I’ve been scratching open in my sleep.  So 
I went to the topical medications section, then stared for about 3 minutes:

Uhhh....

Uhhh….

There were a few items I recognized, others that were local (but labeled in English), and some that were labeled mostly/exclusively in Chinese. I wasn’t set on using a product that I knew from the US – but I couldn’t even find one of those.  Or anything local that said “Stops itch!”.  And obviously, I wasn’t gambling on anything that lacked any English labeling.

I found plenty of bug repellent, but nothing anti-itch (subliminal message about the importance of prevention?).  This is a tropical country!  How could they not have anti-itchy cream?!?!  I suppose that I could have asked for assistance, but I didn’t.  I payed for my groceries and took my itchy knee home, figuring that ice cubes would have to do for the time being.  On the plus side, they’re free.  And totally natural.

As I was walking home, I realized that I should have stopped at Watsons, a local HBA specialty store that is sort of like CVS or Walgreens, but without a pharmacy.  These stores often have a more comprehensive collection of products than the supermarkets do, and I might have been able to find something there.  There is one literally next door to the supermarket I was shopping in.  *sigh*

Don’t get me wrong, this entire situation was a really small deal – and my knee is still attached.   But I am trying to share the flavor (good and bad) of expat living with those who’ve never lived in another country.  And sometimes you have these momehts: Just when you think you’re getting the hang of things, some little exchange reminds you still have a lot to learn…

Expectation: Frustrating. Reality: SIMPLE.
I also had a small medical thing I wanted checked out (not itchy knee syndrome).  I was feeling reluctant to tackle the “health care in a foreign country” issue, but it had to be done eventually – and better for a small, non-urgent matter than in an emergency situation.  [Stop panicking, Mom and Dad. Everything is fine.  Remember, this was all the way back on Wednesday, and we just talked last night.]

Although I was dragging my feet (I don’t like to go to the doctor, period – never mind a totally new medical system/doctor), I should say that compared to some foreign postings, ours is actually awesome for medical care.  Singapore is probably the premier place to go in Southeast Asia for modern medical care.  In fact, the system is so well-organized and reasonably priced, it is, in many ways, probably superior to that in US.

Let’s examine this in relation to my situation:  I could have walked into any of a dozen medical clinics, either government-run or private, within 2 kilometers of our apartment.  For Singaporeans, using a government-run clinic is often cheaper – but for us, the price is the same.  Clinics provide diagnosis and treatment for minor medical conditions, and some also provide continuing care for chronic conditions, vaccinations, physicals, etc.  Generally, they operate on a walk-in basis.

After some research, and consultation with our insurance plan, I decided to try a private clinic that is just a short bus ride from our apartment.  It is also associated with a hospital and other medical and dental offices/facilities that we could use for basically all of our health-care needs.  I was still a bit anxious about the “walk-in” concept, especially since it was now after 5 PM (I feared it would be quite busy at the end of the workday), so I decided to do a walk-by.  I entered the hospital (where the clinic is housed) at 5:25 PM.  I inadvertently did a “walk-through”, since the clinic waiting area was also a pass-through for other areas of the hospital.  But there was no one waiting.  No one.  And there were three nurses at the check-in counter.  What the heck?  I went for it.

After providing my ID card, address, and allergies, I explained my problem to the nurse.  This was all done in a semi-public area, so I guess if you’re embarrassed, this wouldn’t be ideal – not that there was anyone else around, anyway…  I was given a number (deli-counter style), and in about 5 minutes was in a room with the doctor.  He asked a few questions [Including “Are you running a fever?”  I laughed…dude, this is Singapore, and I’ve only lived here for 4 months. I. Am. Always. Hot.] and checked my vitals.

We discussed the issue briefly, and he gave me a few options: he’d prescribe antibiotics, which I could start taking immediately if I wanted.  But since my situation wasn’t serious, I could try a few other remedies for a day or two first, then take the antibiotics if things didn’t improve.  I was pleased with his brief but comprehensive analysis, patient education, and multiple treatment options.  I waited for the drugs (issued at the doctor’s office, not a pharmacy) and settled my bill.  Visit + Antibiotics + Alternative treatment + Lab test = $80.  WOW.

Also?  I walked out at 6:10 PM.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is a grand total of 45 minutes.   Sweet!

I was done in time to hit the gym (I wasn’t contagious, don’t worry) for a spin class, followed by a round of Yin Yoga with my favorite instructor in the Fitness First system.  KMN met me at the gym, and spun while I yoga-d, then we headed home together.  I crossed my fingers, hoping that my crockpot dinner wouldn’t be a charred mess.  It wasn’t.   🙂  This post is already too long and photo-less, but stay tuned for some foodie details – because that meal was the best thing I’ve yet to make in the crockpot.

Those of you living outside your home country: Any memorable “simple thing turns out to be complicated” stories?

Easy home remedies for itchy bug bites? Singaporeans:  Any anti-itch product suggestions?
[I tried ice, and carrots, with varied success.]

19 thoughts on “Adventures of Living Abroad: Unexpectedly Stumped and Pleasantly Surprised

  1. Meg

    I’d recommend going to a pharmacy and showing them your rash. The pharmacists in Bangladesh, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong all would pick out a product for you and send you on your way. Is it the same way in Singapore? Hope you’re un-itchy soon!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      So here, drugs are dispensed by the doctor’s office directly, most often, and a free-standing pharmacy (with pharmacist) is more rare, I think. Although probably asking at an HBA-type store would at least elicit a recommendation for some anti-itch thingie. [I can recommend Bactine to someone who’s itchy, even though I don’t have a degree in pharmacy…]

      Reply
  2. Kim

    I use a non- traditional anti-itch approach, and I’ve converted nearly everyone in my lab and anyone that has tried it. It is available as an oil and that is how I first used it- a bright green mix of camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil. However, I couldn’t find the oil anymore, so I did a search of the ingredients and happened upon the same stuff in a petroleum jelly consistency (Clear, not green and far less messy! Score!). People use it as a muscle rub and/or lip balm, but it is by far the best (and ONLY) thing I will use on mosquito bites and itchy rashes. It’s also the only stuff that works! I have an extra tin of the balm that I haven’t opened, and would be glad to send it. Let me know! 🙂
    Also- when I was in Italy medical care was great. My “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment came when I went to the grocery store and the poultry section only had ENTIRE (head included) chickens. I had to tell the butcher to pick one and give me the breast without showing his choice to me. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it if I saw its face! It was also extra challenging because I had to say all of this in Italian. Fun times!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Does your magic stuff have a name? Asians are into alternative medicines, I’m wondering if they have it here, or if there’s a similar local substance…

      Hahaha!!! I love your moment. I was prepped for the fact that my chickens here would come headed & footed, but I’ll admit – the first time I held the cleaver over the neck…it was harder than I thought. Come to think of it, there might be a blog post in that. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Jean

    It’s interesting to hear your perspective on being an expat! I’ve done the study abroad thing twice (in Chile while in high school and in France while in college), and definitely had many “unexpectedly stumped/pleasantly surprised” experiences! I imagine Singapore would be even more difficult because Chinese is so much harder than Spanish/French!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Singapore is actually kinda cheating – there’s a LOT of English/Singlish spoken here, so I can get by pretty easily in *most* places. Thank goodness, because my Chinese is limited to greetings, thank-yous, and counting to 6, at the moment – but I’m working on it! There’s a lot more I have to say about language, because the language combos are really fascinating here. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Sarrilly

    Aww I wish I knew Chinese anti-itch creams to recommend one to you!

    For itchy things like bug bites, though, when there’s no cortisone around, my dad swears by….toothpaste. Dab it on, let it dry. Except maybe don’t use the blue gel kind unless you like blue spots 😉

    Reply
  5. Kim

    I don’t recall the name of the oil, but the balm I use is called Smith’s Menthol and Eucalyptus Balm. It’s similar to Vapo-rub, although not quite as pungent so you won’t walk around clearing the sinuses of all of Singapore. The only place I can find it to buy it is on Drugstore.com. Last time I ordered 8 because each of the people in the lab wanted 1 or 2. I ordered one for myself but I still have one that is relatively full. I can certainly send it, just Facebook message me. I’ll do some searching to figure out the name of the oil.

    Reply
  6. misszippy1

    Definitely a mixed bag, for sure! But what a great experience to be living abroad like that. I have never done it and have always thought it would be so worthwhile. Fun side note–one of my running friends spent 3 years in Singapore, followed by 2 in Norway (he just came back stateside). Quite the contrast in locations, but he enjoyed both thoroughly!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha! I guess he had to buy a whole new wardrobe!!! I left several Rubbermaid containers of winter gear (I spent 6.5 years in upstate NY) at my parent’s place when we moved. I live in dresses, shorts, and tanks these days. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Nicole

    One time (before I was working) Jon and I decided to tackle a couple of new recipes I took my list with 3 names for each item and tried Tikka market (great variety btw) since I had to go to Little India for something else anyway. Stall to stall I went and pointed to my list and said ‘I need this’ (sometimes with a pencil sketch of the item) and eventually found a young Chinese man that took me to his friends’ stall to show me what I wanted and translated for me to the proprietor. This was the best ‘I don’t know what I need but this is what this cookbook calls it” adventure. It almost made me forget all the times I was shooed out of a certain store in Ghim Moh when I didn’t pronounce the name of my item correctly (ok that was only once but it really bummed me out).

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha! Oh, Nicole, I love hearing your adventure stories. I have yet to be shooed out of anywhere, yet… But to be honest, if I’m going somewhere more local, I bring KMN along – he adds to my local cred, and I think that can help a lot. [Or I just work the word “makan” into conversation… ;-)]

      But now, I’m really curious…What were you trying to make?? 🙂

      Reply
  8. SE

    You’re doing well with registering on the medical system already! I’ve been in the UK for almost 12 years and only registered about 6 months back. I’m like you and hate GP clinics and hospitals and actively avoid them. :/ Thankfully I’ve never had a serious illness here.. *touch wood*

    Ooo, I used to get really bad mossie bites when I lived in Malaysia. I used Mopiko, but that was years back. Don’t know if they are still available in the shops!

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      I don’t like them, but I also hate the thought of being really sick, and THEN having to figure out the system and find a good place to go. This was a better option! 🙂

      Hmmm…will have to keep my eye out for Mopiko. Thanks for the tip!

      Reply
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  10. erica prier

    I use tea tree oil for my itchy bites. And works well on pimples 🙂

    I don’t think I had any unusual experiences with the medical system here, though I think I visited the doctor here about ten times more than back home, mostly for continuous medical exams for Visa applications!

    Reply
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