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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Shine bright like a diamond

I don't know what to say. I'm in denial one minute and crying my eyes out the next. What the hell is happening right now??!

How was I speaking to you only 3 weeks ago and now I'm sitting in my house watching the clock as I know they're about to lay you to rest right now as I type this?!. How is it that 3 weeks ago you were texting me to say thanks for some birthday champagne that I'd surprised you with, and now I'll never get to speak to you again? How is it fair that I'll never get to say goodbye to you or ever get over the guilt of it? 

You know that person that you hear about on TV or on Facebook or something; the one who is like a walking saint, always putting the needs of others before themselves? The one who is suffering immensely but doesn't show it in front of others? The one who has a smile on their face even though they are in pain on the inside? 

You know the friend or relative you have who you only need to think about and you have a smile on your face? The one who cannot be described in words but rather from the feelings you get from that person? The one who hasn't got an enemy in the world? 

What about that person you hear about who doesn't let anything get them down? The one who is consistently positive despite the massive obstacles that life puts in their way? Or the person who completes more in their forty years that you could in one hundred?

Well that person was my friend Ita.

Ita Minogue, my little pixie. I can still hear your cheeky giggle in my ears. The hospital wanted her in last Friday week and she refused, saying she'll be in on the Monday as she was still partying! That's my girl - the life and soul of the party despite the fact that she was drowning on the inside. Irrespective of the fact that she was on a transplant list, on dialysis every second day, was constantly in and out of hospital for weeks on end, took about thirty tablets the size of horse tranquilisers a day - this beautiful little star would ask how your day was and would want to talk about you

You know, we never spoke about it. Never let it be what defined her. Never gave it a name. And to be honest, most of the time I would forget about it. Even when she was hooked up to her nebuliser or the dialysis machine (which took up half of her room), we chatted about how I had a cold and was feeling sorry for myself, or how work was stressing me out or about some man-drama I was having. Which was clearly more important...and perhaps a good distraction from what was slowly trying to take over her. Maybe she wanted it that way, or maybe it was because she was so good at fighting that I forgot she was suffering.

I knew it was serious. I knew that if you had it, the odds weren't good. Ireland has some of the most severe strains of it and also has the highest incidence (per head of population) of it in the world; with three times the rate of the US and the rest of the EU.

I knew the impact of it can vary from one person to another. I had seen that some people with it live only until their teens and there are others that live in to their 50's. 

It had already taken three people I knew by the time I was twenty-nine. This was number four. Ita had just turned forty.

My last physical memories of Ita were sitting on her couch in Co. Clare last Christmas when I went home, eating way too many wine gums before dinner and chatting on the times gone by. We were laughing about the trip to Turkey where we met in 2011, how things have changed since then and wondering about what things would be like in another three or four years. Little did we know seven months later was all it would be before things would change forever.

Ita liked the new boots I had bought, so she quickly bought a pair online before Francis, her husband, could see! She gave me a pair of beautiful earrings and we took a selfie to go in my "Day-by-Day" Facebook Status account of what I did when I went home. It was a very stormy day that day and Ita was quick to try and rush me home to Meath as soon as I'd had my dinner, for fear something would happen to me on the way back. She was barely able to walk about the house, yet was worrying about me. The little minx was asking me what date I was flying back to Melbourne after Christmas. I knew her plan -  she was trying to find out a date so she could see me off at Dublin Airport; a four hour drive away! I wouldn't tell her and so I drove off beeping and waving goodbye to her as she stood in the front doorway of her house, waving frantically in her dressing gown, smiling from ear to ear.

So I'm in Townsville on the weekend visiting my sister, my Dad (who is over visiting her) and my niece. I get up and check Facebook and within five minutes of logging on I have messages from Ita's husband and four other friends. My sister immediately knows there's something wrong by the expression on my face before I hear anything. I have a sickening feeling in my stomach because I know, before anything is said, the main connection between these five people and me is Ita and this deadly disease. I know what they're going to say. And then I read it, and re-read it and again a third time before I start to accept what they're telling me. In that split second, I feel a part of my heart literally break.

How considerate some people are. In such an emotional and heartbreaking time, these people thought to notify me and let me know of the sad news. I am so grateful and it's another credit to Ita in the circle of friends and family that she had around her. In a haze, I immediately start looking up flights to go home, and it's right then that I am overwhelmed with an irrational sense of hatred towards Australia and how far away from home it is. Even if I were to board a flight back to Melbourne that day I wouldn't make it back to Ireland in time for the Wake, removal or funeral. I am too far away to get home in time to say goodbye to my friend who is being buried in her party dress from her 40th birthday only weeks ago.

Words can't express the pain in my heart right now. You put up a great fight Ita - at no stage did you let this unrelenting disease beat who you are. Even in death you will shine brighter, not allowing the disease that took your body destroy you. I admire you and your unfailing courage in the face of what would make most crumble. Beautiful, funny & positive to the end; I will always treasure the happy times & aim to live more of a life for you. You will be the brightest star up there. A part of me has gone with you my beautiful Ita. One of the strongest and bravest people I have ever met, your continuous humour and positivity in the face of the insurmountable mountain you had to try climb was inspiring. Constantly thinking about everyone else before yourself, you never ceased to amaze me. You fought hard my little star, now breathe easy and continue to mind us from above. I am absolutely devastated, but so thankful I was special enough to have you as part of my life. I love you Itóg.

And so, in an effort to try to process and deal with this, I decide to take a leaf out of Ita's book. A never-ending flow of positivity and inspiration, I will consciously live as good and full a life as I can for she who can no longer do so. I will try to remember to take every breath as a second chance and not to take anyone for granted. What better way to honour a friend than to make her proud as she shines from above? And in those instances where I forget and fall flat on my face and fail, I know she will be the first one to start laughing. Ita's legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of everyone she touched. So, excuse my language, but fuck you Cystic Fibrosis. Ita was, and always will be, so much bigger than you - you don't get to win this one.

Ita Minogue
July 3rd 1975 - July 25th 2015

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited chronic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system of about 1200 children and adults in the Ireland (70,000 worldwide). A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections; and obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food.
Visit for more information or to donate towards finding a cure.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Land of Sex and Smiles

And so the craziness began...

We arrived in Phuket and check in to Ban Thai Resort, where the concierge insists on only talking to Neil. Now, I don't care who pays for something in a couple, who earns more money or who stays at home with the kids if you have any. I do, however, have an issue with you PRESUMING that the man is the leader of the couple or the man is the one who earns more. When the concierge started talking to Neil about the details of the hotel, going to hand him the keys, talking to him about the bill and completely ignoring the fact that I was standing there, despite my name being the one on the credit card; that didn't go down well in Ciara-world. This guy was completely dismissing the fact that I was also human and of equal importance to everyone else in the room. And so, when he went to hand Neil the key to the room, I intercepted the exchange by grabbing it off him and saying "thank you, I'll take that"; staring at him with a look that would probably burn through lead.
Upon entering the hotel room, it was clear they thought that we were on our Honeymoon and had the room showered in rose petals and had the towels made into swans. I could actually see Neilee starting to actively sweat as though I had secretly organised it and was about to get down on one knee! The poor boy. The petals were quickly removed and swiftly thrown in the bin, for fear that they would evoke any sort of romantic nonsense and anyway; they were making it less comfortable to watch Match of The Day on, I'm not joking.

We went out to find somewhere to eat and I quickly remembered how much I hate the pushy culture of people pretty much trying to wrestle you into their shop or restaurant. I don't even like when you walk into a shop in Melbourne and they immediately ask "How you going?" (plus, what does that even mean? There is at least one word missing in that Aussie sentence), never mind have people constantly trying to get you to come in and buy in their shop. Not to mention the fact that they put on an Australian accent ("cheaper than Myer mate") if they think you're Aussie or an English one ("lovely jubbly, cheaper than Next") on the nights when Neil looked particularly English (polo shirt with the button done up to the top). They never guessed I was Irish, but I imagine that would bring on the onslaught of "Top of the morning to ya" or something along those lines.
I understand that this is the way they make their money, but it's too pushy for me and just intimidates me not to go into their place. Not to mention that they start off really friendly, but then when you don't do as they want or even when you say "no thanks" they immediately start slagging you off in Thai. Oh yes; now i really want to buy from you...?! Anyway, it probably took me half the week to get used to this and not either flinch when they approached or snap at them so that they would leave me alone. I couldn't get over how different the people in Koh Samui were to the people of Phuket. And the pushiness was only the beginning...

We decide that we're going to try and do a few things whilst on holiday. This was the first holiday Neilee had been on that wasn't a drunken haze of booze, stupid tattoos (no need to remind you of the "Billy the Fish" incident) and God knows what else, so we decided to do a few activities. As we loved the snorkelling so much, we decided to do some island tours and signed up for the Phi Phi Island and Raya Island tour, which also brought us onto the beach where "The Beach" was filmed. Our tour guide was great! We were on a boat full of Asians and a few Russians, but were the only native English speakers and so the guides took a shine to us.

Our guide took some photos for us, explained some history about the place specifically to us and even took the two of us out snorkelling on our own (as none of  the rest of them could really swim). At one stage we stopped the boat in the middle of the sea and were told we could go out to snorkel. The Chinese group get their life jackets on and get into the water. They were all out again before we even got our turn to get off the boat and into the sea! The big Russians (who fit EXACTLY into the stereotype of being brick-houses) were the same, saying there were jelly fish in the water and that they had gotten stung. So, then there was only Neil and I in the water, feeding the fish, who were in a frenzy around the banana that one of the guides had given me, It was amazing!!! I had the GoPro and was filming it happen, when I got stung on the lip by a jellyfish. You can hear my screams under water through the tube I was using to breathe! It was sore!!!! A couple more stings to the hands and legs, some underwater swearing and we needed to get out as the boat was waiting on us. I looked like I had botox done when I got out! At least it was free though!

A great day, with lots of new experiences. We snorkelled some more off The Beach, but the current was very strong and I didn't last long as my mask kept leaking and the seawater was stinging my eyes. The Chinese group were a total liability, clinging to the boat in their life jackets, or indeed anything they could get hold of - including me! At one stage I had to pry two fully-dressed girls off of me as I was trying to get onto the ladder of the boat and they were going to drown me; grabbing hold of my head and pushing me down for fear they would drown in their lifejackets...! Scary stuff as they literally were unaware of how dangerous they were being to the few of us without gear keeping us afloat. We held some baby monkeys and I saw a shark while snorkelling (which was thankfully both small and swimming away from us!) before heading back to Phuket.

Another day we went scuba-diving for an hour or so, where Neilee couldn't get the hand of standing still underwater or not kicking when the guide was pushing us around the place - it was funny! We literally had to do nothing but breathe but I came out with bruises on my legs from Neilee's flippers! I took loads of footage of him scuba-diving and then handed him the camera underwater and he went off doing his own thing and didn't take any of me! Eh...cheers mate. #flyingsolo

We went to Tiger Kingdom another day, where each of the keepers were obsessed with the fact that he was from Liverpool (although none of them were Everton fans and probably the same number could even understand him) and therefore gave us more time in the pens or took more photos for us. In the "small" tiger pen (where the tigers are 9 months old and not exactly small at all), I even got to feed one of them by bottle, which was unreal! I was standing in the middle of four or five tigers who were "play fighting" (there would be nothing fun about being caught in the middle of that!) with each other and wrestling for the bottle I was feeding them with. I will not lie and say I wasn't really excited but just as equally fearing for my life! What an experience. The tigers are free to roam about the enclosures as much as they like. The keepers are armed with small sticks...yes, STICKS, to keep the tigers from mauling anyone inside the enclosure. It wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring when one of the tigers decided he had enough of the attention and completely ignored the keepers and their sticks and bowled past them, moving to the other side of the enclosure. I kept close to the edge of the enclosure where there was an electric fence, having decided to throw myself against it in the hope of instant death through electrocution rather than mauling should the event arise.  

This same day we got to ride on the back of an elephant with a guide on her neck, until the guide got off and told me to sit where he was and then walked away. The elephant started moving and I was clearly in less-than-zero control of what she was doing, so I was just left sitting in fear and trying not to fall off, while it made it's own way home. Again another stroke of luck, as the other couple who had gone with us just sat on the back and didn't get to be involved at all on their elephant. Our guide took video footage of us and it was great - those animals are so big and move so slowly, but you can feel their power; it's quite scary. Neilee sat on the back like he was some sort of King being brought through the jungle.

After seeing a monkey show at this same place, I started to feel a little uncomfortable as I wasn't 100% happy with the way in which the animals were reacting to the people, so I was glad to call it a day. You leave money for the animals in the blind hope that they will at least treat them with something.

One night we are walking down Bangla Road and getting hounded to buy suits or go to a "Ping Pong Show", when we come across a group of Lady-Boys dressed up to the nines. Posing for some photos, they smile and do all the moves for the camera, but then stand towering 7ft over you to get you to give them money afterwards. It was only $4 each for the photos, so I didn't mind, and then we watched them from a bar across the road attack every unsuspecting passerby possible. I was in absolutely shock at one of them; who could have been one of the hottest "girls" I had ever seen, if I hadn't known "she" was actually really a "he"!! It was incredible how absolutely drop dead gorgeous this girl was!!! Some of them were completely obvious (and shouldn't have been wearing the little clothes that they were!), some less so; but this particular one was only obviously a Lady-Boy because she was wearing flamboyant feathers and a bikini top and was surrounded by other Lady-Boys. She became known as "my favourite" - I honestly couldn't get over how she was actually a guy! If I was a straight guy in Phuket, I wouldn't be getting with anyone, because you actually cannot tell sometimes. Well, apart form the dancing. You can tell when they try to dance sexily, as they can't. Imagine your brother/Dad/Uncle trying to dance sexily around a pole. This is what these Lady-Boys danced like - a bit like older people dance at weddings...
OK, the actual females were slightly bigger and probably not as good looking, but they could dance.

Neil tells me about this Lady-Boy show that travels the world and how he's seen signs for it at home and we decide that it'll be fun to go and see the show here as it HAS to be good. Surely it will be good, being one of the biggest homes of Lady-Boys?! How unbelievably wrong we were.

Cue an hour of pure and utter skin-crawling cringiness; you know when you're in a situation so cringy that you want to scrape your skin off or just dig a hole in the ground and crawl into it? This was it. For a entire hour. Firstly, we were the only ones in the show for the first bit, until we were thankfully able to share the awkwardness with another couple who had made the same mistake as us by entering. The Lady-Boys mimed their way through songs of which they didn't know the words, wearing clothes that didn't fit and were tied together with safety pins. One looked absolutely smashed and did an "It's Raining Men" number where the bouncer of the club joined in as one of the dancers (they were obviously short?!) and the whole dance was based around the fact that the drunk could do a one handed cartwheel. Which he did. Five times. I mean, if I had been able to rip out my eyeballs to stop seeing what I was seeing, I would have. The grand finale was where they all came out on stage and the boozed up Banglarian came out in a G-string and no top on. My eyes still can't unsee the sight.

One evening I say that I want to get a massage, but don't want to go on my own, so we pick a place and I make sure they don't take him off to another room when we go upstairs. As we walk in, Neilee says he wants a Sports Massage and I ask for a Swedish Massage. Immediately a particular "girl" is picked from the staff to do what Neilee has asked for and we head up the stairs. I'm immediately suspicious as she's tall and beautiful - a sure sign of a man in this town. It sounds weird, but it's true! I'm about twenty minutes into my massage when I look over at Neilee and can just see him writhing in pain and deep breathing below the elbows of the masseuse!! He was in absolute agony the entire hour while I tried to stifle the laughter at the sound of his breaths and "f*&king hell" comments. Mine wasn't exactly relaxing either, so I can only imagine what pain he was in! At one stage his masseuse was standing on him, digging her heels into his back. My masseuse was fascinated with my hair extensions and didn't have any issues with examining me like a baboon eating lice from another's head. There are no boundaries in Thailand.

Remember I was talking about my hatred of the "Billy The Fish" excuse for a tattoo on Neilee's wrist? Well as the Ed Sheeran tickets for Neilee's birthday didn't work out (I was in Singapore for it so I sold them to get the extortionate amount of money I paid for them back), I got him a cover up tattoo instead. I found something on Pinterest that he liked since he was looking for a skull and roses and so it was bye-bye ridiculous upside-down fishy. Neilee spent the last day getting that done, so I headed off to get a massage back at the place I'd been at the couple of days before. I decided to try out a foot massage this time and despite the fact that I hate people touching my feet, it was lovely! I was enjoying the whole experience when I saw Neilee's masseuse was given the German guy beside me a foot massage too. She was clearly flirting with the poor guy who was absolutely oblivious to it all, apart from catching the daggers his wife was giving her. THEN I notice something else - the masseuse had TWO THUMBS on the one hand!!!!! I was delighted with my find so I could tell Neilee, but couldn't get an opportunity to support my allegation with a photo as she kept looking at me. As a matter of fact they all were looking at me as my masseuse talked about me in Thai. I needed to start learning this language.
I went and got another massage from the same girl I had the massage from the few days previous. She started talking to me and confirmed my suspicions that Neilee's goddess was in fact a man. And let's not forget the two thumbs on one hand. Gold.
She continued to talk to me about her life and asked me questions about mine. It made me sad to hear that she was from Koh Samui and had to move to Phuket to make money as he husband left her with three kids. She hadn't seen her children in over 18 months and it would be another 18 before she had enough money to go home. Here was this girl working full days every day (one day off in a year and a half) trying to get enough money so she could support her children and here was I lying there paying her next-to-nothing to massage me for an hour. Even after I paid her three times the amount for the massage, it didn't eradicate the empty feeling of the injustice of it all.
I headed back to see the master cover-up tatt, and it was amazing! Neilee was delighted and the tattoo artist was impressed that he was able to do it in one sitting. Billy the Fish is still lingering under one of the roses if you look closely - hopefully as a reminder to not do stupid things when you're drunk...!

I obviously took great delight in inform
ing Neilee of the fact that he had a man with three thumbs rub and manhandle him the few days prior. Funnily enough he didn't seem to relish in my discovery as much as I was doing. Shame there wasn't time to get another "session" booked in...

We saw a few Muay-Thai fights, where the competitors just fight until one of them gives up. An elbow splitting the opponents head open stopped one fight, whereas another was an elbow to the eye, busting it open. These fighters were from about 15 to 30-years-old and although the boys looked wiry, they just kept going. It was savage; knees to the head, kicks to the shins and stomach; not something someone who doesn't even like to watch boxing would enjoy.

The last night consisted of going to see a Ping-Pong show; if only to shut the apparent-hundreds of people on Bangla Road who were trying to get us to go in and experience it up. So we did. And my God - what an experience. We walked upstairs into a dark bar, where we sat down and paid $60 for two drinks (one of them being a Diet Coke!). Sure, the show was free but you needed to take out a second mortgage to buy a drink, which was also compulsory mind you.
In front of us was a stage, with five poles on it and with one Asian girl standing beside each pole dancing expressionless. This was no Magic Mike stuff. They weren't wearing much to start off with anyway, but ended up with absolutely nothing on. Bless Neil, who was trying to look but also trying not to look as though he was looking TOO much since I was sitting beside him! That's quite a skill.
Now, some of these girls were GORGEOUS yet swayed around the pole with blank faces, taking off their clothes til their song ended and they could swap shifts with the next lot. More and more people came into the bar until the Ping-Pong show started.

Now, I knew what the idea of the show was about and so I was expecting one of the previous models to come out on stage to start the performance. Imagine my shock when the "artist" who clambered up on stage was in fact about sixty-years-old, wearing too little to hide the necessities, fully equipped with a knee support and no teeth! What a sight! She bundled up on stage, squatted and started pulling razor blades on a string out from "underneath". The show continued awkwardly where she removed needles, a live hamster and a live BIRD from there; she continued by pushing live FISH from herself into a fish bowl (there must have been about ten of them up there!), by playing the trumpet with it, by smoking with it and then eventually by getting members of the audience to hold up balloons while she fired darts from her nether-regions to pop them! Not exactly something you see every day, but I in fact was more shocked and disgusted about what was going on in the audience than what we had paid to see on stage.
To my left was an old Asian man of about sixty-plus years of age. He had two young Asian girls around him; both of which looked about sixteen. One was topless and sitting on his knee with her hand down his trousers as he manhandled her breasts, while the other was touching herself in front of him and then rubbing her hand on his face afterwards. Neil had to keep tell me to stop staring as I sat open-mouthed at the disgusting sight no more than 2 metres away from me. To my right a white man of about fifty years of age was drinking and licking alcohol from one of the girls' bodies as she bent over in front of him. As soon as the "show" was finished I grabbed my stuff and stormed out the door, fuming at it all.
Just upon getting down to Bangla Road again, some poor lady shoved a photo in my face and said "Ping Pong Show" and I lost it, shouting at her "NO! I'VE ALREADY SEEN IT!" before Neilee rescued her by dragging me away. I had been appalled and angered at the sight of the older white men with the Thai teenagers on their arm all week and this was the last straw.

Phuket has beautiful beaches and it has amazing scenery, but due to the focus being on bringing the money in, rather than looking after the environment to prolong the natural beauty for longer, the place is becoming littered and dirty. The tourists don't seem to care and the locals even less so. The Phuket authorities don't put enough resources into keeping the place clean as they're too busy concentrating on getting more people to visit. Phuket also sells sex as its way of getting the tourists and making money, all to the detriment of its own people. It made me so sad to see the lengths that the locals will go to in order to make money. The sex rooms in the massage parlours, the sex shows on every street, the Thai men on the beach looking for white females - it's everywhere. Again, how the (usually white) men honestly think the gorgeous teenage Thai girl on their arm is remotely attracted to them, never mind in love with them, is beyond me?! How do they not feel embarrassed as they walk around the streets holding the hand of someone who could be their daughter? How do they not feel sad for the girls? How do the girls do it?? It must be that the alternative in the girls' lives is so bad that this is an easier act to follow and an easier life to live. I couldn't get over how sad it all was and how OK so many people were with it. I don't think I'll be rushing back.

Thailand is amazing on the quiet side - Koh Samui absolutely lived up to the "Land of Smiles" name its country has been given, with friendly people who are always willing to help, smiling and bowing at you in thanks. But unfortunately what they don't tell you is that it also has a dark side; crime, drugs, sex trade and corruption in Phuket and Bangkok. Thailand had the highest number of deaths of Aussies overseas in 2012, with 111 fatalities, whereas there were 389 British National deaths in 2013. Britain says that it's the country where its citizens are second most likely to require consular assistance if they visit, behind the Philippines. Scary stuff when you know this and even scarier when you only learn about it after you've been there.

And so, in a flash it was over. My holiday for the year; done and dusted. What a great time, an amazing and beautiful wedding and so good to see my family again! Neilee didn't kill me either (which was an unexpected bonus) and we managed to have a great time, even if I'll be paying my bit off for the rest of the year! Now to plan the next one...

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The story of the missing shoe

Landing in Melbourne at 6am, I managed to get an hour's sleep before getting up to go start the day and get everything done. And the shock to my body after spending two months in 30-odd degrees with maximum humidity to come home to 7 degrees was intense! I was FREEZING!!!
I had to get my hair, nails and waxing done before going back to mine to pack yet another bag with summer clothes - about the only clothing that I had left in the wardrobe at this stage!
It was all non-stop and with our flights having been pushed from midnight to the following morning, at least it meant that I was getting a night's sleep in between the two long-haul flights I had to do. 
Next morning we set off for the airport - Neil and my first holiday together; I wonder how long it would take before he killed me?! THE most independent and self-contained person I knew, I hoped that he wouldn't be running for the hills until the wedding was over at least...

We flew the 8 hours from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpar, with my taking something to knock me out; if only to avoid the killing of any innocent passengers who would possibly be preventing me from sleeping. Neil could sleep standing up in a hurricane, so he dropped off and slept most of the way too. We arrived in KL and had three hours to kill before the next leg to Phuket; so we got some Burger King (it was weird to not see it as Hungry Jack's again!); but not before my body did its usual trick of not being able to regulate its temperature and suddenly I was boiling. I'm always cold. ALWAYS. And if I'm not cold, then I'm roasting. There is no in between for me. This time I was fanning myself with something waiting to sign the card receipt for the girl at the till, when I suddenly couldn't see what I was writing and almost passed out. Swaying to and fro to the bathroom, I took off some of the many layers I had on and all was well with the world again. 

A quick plane ride landed us in a stormy Phuket, but luckily we had just missed it. We immediately saw the pushy and noisy culture upon exiting the airport when the pushy taxi men all try to get you to choose their taxi. And then I had the pleasure of being introduced to what they think "driving" is. When we got into the minibus, I was convinced we wouldn't make it out alive. Racing on the wrong side of the road, overtaking on a blind bend, weaving in and out of traffic that wasn't even in lanes; this was my idea of Hell. These people mustn't live very long. And since I was in the front seat, I was already thinking I wouldn't get to wear the shoes I had almost remortgaged my house for!

We finally arrive in one piece at our destination; which I had booked with my Work-Wife in Singapore - choosing it because it was literally across the road from the bus we were going to have to get in the morning. Getting into the room, I could see why it only cost a total of $20 a night. The smell was like we were sleeping in the sewer and there were loads of mosquitos. In the knowledge that it was only for the night, we set the alarm for the morning to allow time for brekkie and then crashed.
Next morning, when we checked out, we said we'd find the Bus and Ferry company before we went to go and get something to eat. And lucky we did. We walked up and down the street and couldn't find the place anywhere. "The Phuket Garden Hotel" was where we had stayed, and we checked with a couple of locals before we went back to the hotel to ask them to Google the Bus and Ferry company. A MASSIVE fail on my part, I had checked us in at "The Phuket Garden Hotel" and should have checked us in at "The Garden Phuket Hotel" instead. Why the hell would you have two hotels pretty much called the same thing in the same town, I have no idea; but they did, and so we jumped into a taxi and screeched the 20 min drive to the location where we should have been at. To add insult to injury the hotel we should have booked looked AMAZING in comparison to the dump where we had stayed. Go figure. The holiday spirit was well and truly wearing thin at this stage.

Eventually on the bus, which was leaking water from the roof (minor detail), I entertained myself for five hours listening to music, while Neil - The Sleepinator - continued to act dead. We arrive two hours early (which could have been spent in bed!) to the port and had to sit in the baking heat with our bags, waiting for the boat to arrive. Eventually it shows up and we drag our sweaty selves onto it for the short 45 min trek to Koh Samui island; all freckles and gleaming white skin amongst a boat full of the most tanned white people you have ever come across. I would like to say that it was "easy to see who had just arrived", but the fact of the matter being that we would be the same shade of pale leaving as we had landed.

Another long taxi ride and we arrive - after two days of travelling (special thanks to Air Asia for messing up our flights originally and leading to this "experience") - at our hotel in Koh Samui, A quick text to all from the lobby of the hotel and they said they were getting ready for dinner and we were to shower, change and meet them. We quickly do so and head off, dressed up, to meet the family. Calling a taxi from the hotel, my sister tells us to meet them at "The Shamrock"...Kind of a weird name for a nice restaurant I thought.
A souped-up black car, lowered and with Recaro Bucket seats, alloys on low-profile tyres and with neon blue lighting under the fairings pulls up and toots at us to get in. We stand staring at the crazy teenager who was clearly on something if he thought he could just turn up and pick up tourists. a minute later the hotel concierge tells us that this is - of course - our taxi! At this stage I'm already getting used to being shocked at everything, so we don't ask any questions and jump in. The 12-year-old "taxi driver" brings us to the approximate area to where we're looking to go, but doesn't know the exact restaurant, so drops us off on the street and expects us to find our way. With no internet or phones. Cheers mate.
Luckily we soon come across the establishment, which is AN IRISH PUB and find ourselves awkwardly overdressed upon seeing the rest of my family in shorts and singlets or beach dresses! Apparently it was my soon-to-be brother-in-law who came up with the ingenious idea of meeting in an Irish pub; something that we don't ever do when we're abroad. The staff were loving us; obsessed with little Izzy and Dad was pointing out a photo of Killybegs, his home town, that was on the wall of the bar. They probably hadn't actually ever seen a real Irish person despite working in an "Irish bar"!

Mam, Dad, Bhany, Luke and Izzy went home early, and Kev, Neilee and I decided to head off for a few before heading home for an early night before the Big Day which was the next day. And therein lies the first mistake.
From the Irish bar we headed across the road to an Aussie bar (we were clearly as unimaginative as they get!) and had a couple of drinks. It was here that the boys pointed the girls across the road out to me as they danced on the bar. They looked like girls; they had long black straight hair, had very little clothes on, but could carry it off with the bodies that they had...but they were men! I was amazed, but couldn't see properly without my glasses, so we said we'd cross the road when we were done and get a bit of a closer look.
That was mistake number two.

Crossing the road, one of the bars that was full of (real) girls started screaming at us, so we said we'd take a seat. We start drinking; Kev matching a whiskey and beer for every Jack that Neilee had. After some chatting, I could soon see the music was getting to Kev and he was itching to get up and dance. A while later cue Kev who is swinging around the pole in the middle of the bar, dancing with two of the girls who are loving it and Neil turns to me and says "So... I've met Kev then".
The drinks continue to flow for the two of them (I held off when I could see how hard they were going) and next thing Kev is trying to teach one of the bar girls how to jive. All the rest of the bar girls are now lined up waiting to be next, even including a Lady-Boy who had sneaked in on the fun. This is clearly not an every day occurrence. A few minutes later Kev is holding his head and there's blood flowing from it as he was too tall for the tiny Thai bar and he had hit his head off the top of it. I am left holding tissues and antiseptic wipes onto his cuts while I instruct a very intoxicated Neil to settle the bill cos we were going. Needless to say trying to get the two of them to do as they were told was like herding cats. It's 1am and I finally manage to pay the bill and practically fireman's lift Kev into a taxi who ripped me off getting the two incoherent drunks home. I manhandle Kev out of the taxi and, still wearing my heels, proceed to carry him down the very steep hill to the room where he is staying. Kev, who isn't exactly a small boy, has his full weight on me and is losing a shoe. Neilee is a few metres behind us and is continuing to be absolutely useless barring the fact that he is holding my handbag. Keep up the good work Neilee. At one stage Kev leans too much to the left and falls off the path into a bush pulling me with him. Both of us literally fly head-first into the bush and I'm not sure that Neilee even notices until I scream at him to help me out. After performing a Mr. Universe effort on getting Kev into his room, I put him to bed and lock the door behind me in case he tries to follow us. Yes; it is THAT bad. Finally I have to lead the other stumbling drunkard home so I can at least go to sleep knowing they were safely (locked) indoors.

Up the next morning at 9am, a hungover Neilee couldn't move from the bed that early, so I showered and got changed and then headed up to make sure Kev was alive and accounted for. Upon entering his room, Kev is inspecting his head in the bathroom mirror, completely oblivious as to what happened the night before. Not a touch of a hangover on him, but he was asking if I knew what happened his head. I described some of the bar scene from the night before and sent him the video I had kindly taken to remind him of his pole dancing. I'm good like that. We decide to go to the lobby to text the family and see what's going on and then Kev says "I'm ready, I just can't find my shoe...". Without blinking, I immediately get a brainwave and head out the door and up the path. I can hear him saying how he only has the one pair with him and can't find it anywhere in his room. He then follows me to the front door and I can hear the "what the ...?!" as he sees me getting into the bush and rummaging around. A couple of other guests go by staring in amazement at the crazy lady who is crawling in a bush at 10am on a Friday. I come out with said missing shoe in hand and leaves in my hair. I hand the prized shoe to him and tell him to put it on, laughing at his completely puzzled expression on how the hell it got there and even worse; how the hell I knew it was there. Now I can appreciate why you can come across a random shoe in the street, or on a tram and wonder how the hell someone can lose a single shoe. It all makes sense now...

The wedding was beautiful. I wasn't too sure how I was going to take it to be honest, but apart from tears and hand shaking at the beginning, I got over it and focused on how happy my little sister looked! I took refuge from the baking sun in Bhany's room until I had to leave. Mam, Bhany, Izzy and I got ready in the room while the boys had some drinks with Luke and his family at the bar. Bhany looked absolutely stunning. I think she is gorgeous anyway, but she just looked so happy and laid back on her Big Day that it was so heart warming to see. The colours of the day were amazing; blue sea to the left, blue sky above, yellow flowers, white dress, brown decking - it was such a beautiful setting and she was brought down to the ceremony by traditional drums and dancers.
The ceremony was lovely; Kev read and Luke's brother Cameron had the rings. I held Bhany's flowers and Izzy, who was quiet as a mouse for the whole thing. And like that, it was done! Bruno Mars "I think I wanna marry you" sang out and everyone clapped and threw yellow petals on them as they left - it was really something special and something completely different! Despite it being a 5pm wedding, the sweat was pouring out of me and my hair was stuck to my back. It is next to impossible to be in any way attractive in a hot country, I am sure of it! If you didn't have natural beauty you were screwed! We had food and drinks for the rest of the evening and by 11pm everyone called it a night and headed home. I noted Kev had volunteered to bring Izzy up to bed to sleep and didn't come back - could it be that someone wasn't exactly 100% hangover free???

The next day Neilee, Dad, Kev and I headed off snorkelling just a few metres from where the wedding ceremony was at Bhany's hotel. I brought the GoPro and we headed off in the crystal clear sea; fish-watching for hours. I tried - and failed - to master the art of diving without your head exploding; which Dad kindly caught on camera for me. I thought I had managed to get about 3 or 4 metres down, whereas the GoPro shows me barely skimming the surface of the water! Does fat make you float...??!
A great few hours spent in the water and then back to the hotel for a snack and a swim in the pool. We all head home to get ready for dinner that night and head out to "The Cliff" ( where we treat Mam and Dad to dinner. From here it's back to the hotel to pack and we're off again!
Morning comes, so we go to the hotel to say our goodbyes to Bhany, Luke and Mam but not before I lose my prescription sunnies and smash the screen on my new iPhone 6. What a great way to start the day.

Neil, Kev and I head to watch the Pacquiao v Mayweather fight in a small bar somewhere in Koh Samui. We watch "Money" dodge and retreat,walk around the ring or defend himself against the ropes to justify himself as the highest paid athlete in the world. It's a disgrace. I already don't like boxing, never mind the fact that he is classed as having won that fight?! How can you win if you don't box? I can't imagine what people who paid to see the fight on TV feel like, never mind those who wasted money going to the actual event?! I was fuming about having wasted the 30 minutes of my life I would never get back again watching that!

From here we say our goodbyes to Kev (and his shoes) and Dad, before Neil and I head to the airport for some more travelling - destination Phuket.

Monday, 6 July 2015

From Irish to Adopted-Aussie in Singapore!

So my life continued in Singapore much the same at it had started - working inhumane hours Monday to Friday and then spending the weekends traipsing around the city trying to see as much of it as possible. I felt the people in work were warming to me though; gradually getting used to the weird blonde white girl - I was even able to get a reply to my "Good Morning!" on the odd occasion :)

Get ready for lots of reading - I don't think I could have fit anything more in to my final month in Singapore if I tried!!

Weekend 5:

It was Easter time and the week before I had decided that I was going to go "home" to Melbourne for the long weekend. I needed the break, was missing Neilee and felt that it would give me a better attitude towards the remaining month if I split the Singapore stint in two. So I spent the fortune on the flights (which turned out to be even more expensive than I thought since I was looking at them as AUD and not the USD they were quoted!) and took the 8 hour flight home on the Thursday night. When I got to the desk they said the flight was two hours delayed and changed my seat and said I would be getting more leg room. I sat in a corner of the airport and waited half the night for the flight. I boarded the flight eventually and quickly realised I was put sitting with four screaming babies and their parents for the entire night-flight back. I quickly asked to be moved but was told the flight was full. Five hours into the flight I complained to the head stewardess who told me I had been moved to accommodate a couple who wanted to sit together. How I managed to not throttle her as I explained, through gritted teeth, that I was being punished for travelling alone was beyond me. Needless to say I got no sleep as I sat there thinking about screaming alongside the infants myself.

Arriving late morning, bleary eyed and ready to cry with exhaustion, I had to phone Neil to get him out of the cafe to find me, despite my having told him I was at the baggage collection ten minutes earlier. Men.
Going home to sleep for a couple of hours, it was Good Friday and so most things were closed, but we walked up and down Chapel Street and went for something to eat. I forgot how much I missed Melbourne for this! We spent the day lounging around since I was so tired and then walked into the city in the evening to get an ice-cream and back. It was good to be back and the nightmare flight was worth it!

Saturday we spent around Chapel St area again, checking out ideas for his tattoo that he wanted. Actually, let me talk about this some more... Neil has an impressive full sleeve tattoo on his right arm, from top to bottom; a scene of Heaven and Hell and the struggle from those in Hell trying to get out, with the Angels guarding the gates of Heaven. On his other arm, he has a single tattoo. Small and on his wrist, this is a tattoo of a fish. Yes, you read right, a fish. What's more, it's an upside-down fish, which looks as though some four-year-old drew it. Now this fish annoys the hell out of me. I cringe every time I see it. "Why would you get such a stupid tattoo?" you may ask? Well, imagine you're a boy on holidays with some mates. Now imagine you're blind drunk and one of your mates decides to grab a live fish from a hotel fish bowl and eat it. What would you do other than get a memorial tattoo to said-fish on your wrist? Upside down. Obviously. Two other mates got the same tattoo (matchy-matchy); one on his foot and one on his arse. I mean - how drunk do you need to be to think that something like this would be a good idea?! Men on their own can be stupid, together they are a liability. Anyway, "Billy the Fish" was finally getting covered up, and I was more than happy to assist in this process. Anything to stop having to see the upside-down bubbles staring at me every day.

Saturday night we went to the cinema.
Sunday we decided to do the 1000 Steps, so headed off in our sports gear; ready for action. The only time I had attempted this previously, was with my cousin Jennifer; who wouldn't even do it with me after we got over the hill and arrived at the starting point! I had to stop on numerous occasions to catch my breath or stop the burning in my legs. This time, if I stopped, I got left behind. Keep up Skittles! We made it to the top in one shot and then spent some more time walking some more trails through the forest. From here we went back to the car to have our pre-prepared rolls and drink while sitting on the edge of the boot of the car. It was fun to get out of the city and to do something that was out of our routine, as well as getting outdoors together. We went home and showered and changed before heading out to dinner. Picking "The Flame" on Chapel Street randomly, we made the fatal error of not "Urban Spooning" it. Never again. The service was terrible, the food was dry and only warm, they got my order wrong - you name it, it happened. I left a lovely review for them afterwards as a thank you. How I love Social Media.

Monday already and it was time to go home. We decided to go for a jog in the morning - again something that we had never done together and it was good to get outdoors early in the morning to kick-start the day. I hadn't run in about 6 months and Neil is obviously a lot quicker than my zimmer-frame-shuffling speed. We did 7km and I was really happy to have not died in the process. Success! I still needed to get a dress for my sister's wedding and my Work-wife Jess wanted me to pick up a couple of things from her Mam's house and bring (take?!) them back to her in Singapore. Popping into her Mam's house, I was immediately part of the family and Lina had me just about invited for dinner! We chatted for a bit and I picked up the bits for Jess before promising her I would look after her daughter and then we headed off to Chadstone Shopping Centre to find something to wear that wasn't $1000 or a size 0; as with everything in Singapore! I found something and then it was time to go. I had a great weekend and really thought we made the most of the short time I had at home, plus doing things that were not our average choices; it was great!
Another 8 hour flight, I got back to my tiny box-apartment for midnight and it was back to work the next day!

Weekend 6:

Poor Jess was sick all week with a bug and so we decided to lay pretty low this weekend. Her new flatmate had given her tickets to the Music Run, so we decided to go and walk it. In the roasting heat it's hard to imagine how others were running it, when I was melting just waiting to cross the start-line! A well organised event, with every kilometre of the five with different types of music: Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop etc. So we set off in our pink to Sentosa Island and took part in the event for the day. The Race Pack included a T-shirt, an iPhone holder for your arm and the most prized possession - a Selfie Stick! My God I was in Heaven!!! We went around the course I took Selfie after Selfie of us at the various different life was now complete :) I could possibly have to bin it upon my return to Melbourne if I didn't want to be "bin-bagged" by my boyfriend however...! We had some people randomly ask us if they could take photos of us with them, but being used to this by now; we pretty much had it down to a fine art at this stage! Such a random thing and quite an invasion on personal privacy, but so normal for them to do. It's funny seeing as though they're so polite and aware of the fact in other ways. On the MRT home I was on my own and a Spanish family sat beside me. Assuming the blonde girl didn't understand what they were saying, they began to talk about how I must have come second in a race with my silver medal. One of the boys was telling the other to ask me about the race and what it was called. The shock on their faces when I replied in Spanish before leaving the train made my evening. And they wonder why I'm paranoid when I can't understand what's being said. Be careful people...

Sunday afternoon we went to try the Singaporean delicacy of Chilli Crab. We checked out the Lonely Planet and headed to Momma Kong's, which was great! Delish albeit messy trying to do it yourself - but this was half the fun! The rest of the day was spent shopping for shoes for the dress I had bought in Chadstone. Silver strappy sandals - you would think this wouldn't be such a difficult task. But after hours of trawling through shops, we gave up and went home. These people didn't do silver, everything was gold.

Weekend 7:

This weekend started with more food, of course. This time Chris decided to show me where to get the best dumplings in Singapore, so we headed to Din Tai Fung where he showed me how to master the art of eating them with chilli, soy sauce and vinegar. Doesn't sound the best, but it was actually lovely! He was also teaching us a bit of the Chinese he had learnt...however, I don't think I'd be relying on him to get me past ordering a beer...

We sat and chatted about how crazy it was that my time here was coming to an end. In what seemed like AGES in one way seemed like only yesterday in another. Kind of a bitter-sweet feeling - I was enjoying the weekends but the work weeks were so long and the culture so different to what I was used to.

From here Jess and I decided to go to do the Night Zoo - so off we went in a taxi to find it. What an experience! I would thoroughly recommend it, even if I was scared within an inch of my life at times. It's night-time (obviously; given the fact it's called the Night Zoo) and once the last show ends about 9:30pm, all the kids go home. I think we might have come across about 8 people in total the whole night - so you literally get the sense that it's you, the animals (that are mostly kept behind flimsy looking wire) and the night sky. The lions are roaring in the background, the hyenas are laughing and the leaves in the bushes beside you are rustling. Now, for someone who is scared of pretty much anything, this was quite a traumatic experience! At one stage we were taking photos of a hyena which was about 10 metres away from us, over a bit of a river. There was no fence separating the scavenger from us, no wall of glass keeping us from being eaten. The hyena is pacing up and down and sees us taking a photo. He charges around to us and stands straight across the gap from us, staring at us in a "you will be my next meal" kind of look. Jess and I can't even look away and I couldn't even hold the phone still to take the photo as the intensity of his stare had me frozen to the spot. Suddenly he fakes a charge towards us and faster than Usain Bolt, we were out of there; not stopping to look back and see if he was behind us. I can still hear it laughing now...
Another time we are walking down the dark path near the Lion enclosure, listening to it call out into the night and there's nobody around.
It's the weirdest feeling; like there is literally only you in the middle of the zoo. We made a pact; be quicker than the slowest person. It doesn't matter if you're not first, just don't be last. The people who come last get eaten.
Many of the enclosures are open, with the animals roaming freely. We're looking into the various enclosures trying to find the animals or make out what they are, when all of a sudden there's a noise from the bushes on our left. The two of us scream loudly and clutch at each other; both trying to jump into each other's arms. Pure terror ensued, until we hear the wheels on the road and we realise it's the little shuttle train that brings everyone around the enclosure. All cool, we knew that. Move on, nothing to see here people...
We come to a door where we blindly enter, wondering what's inside. We walk inside and can't really see anything, so continue to walk down the path leading the way though the enclosure. It's not until we're a good 10 metres into the enclosure til we realise it's full of bats, which then start flying all around us and swooping in front of the path we need to walk though. Jess and I are stuck standing in the middle of a cage for a good few minutes, where there are black shadows ducking and diving all around us. Putting my hands over my head and covering my neck and ears (I have no idea why??), I face my body towards where I'm meant to be going, close my eyes and just power-walk through the mayhem, with Jess following quickly behind. I could feel them flying beside me as I bulldozed my way through. We couldn't get to the door quick enough!
At midnight the zoo was closing, so we got an ice-cream and sat outside eating it until our taxis came. What a great way to spend the night - although I probably permanently damaged my heart in the process...

Next day Jess was having a House-Warming Party. I went on the hunt again for silver shoes for Bhany's wedding but no luck. I headed into every shop in Singapore but there was nothing. Accepting defeat, I went to Jess's new apartment where her flatmate Andrew was celebrating his birthday as well as the House-Warming.
The 6ft 7in Chris turns up and causes quite a stir amongst all the Asian party members, while also impressing them with the cheese he brought to the party and his knowledge of dairy in general (he's a Dairy Commodity Trader). The three of us "whiteys" hung out on the balcony outside, chatting for most of the night. We had one guy join us late in the party - he was an older American guy, who looked as though he had just taken a dip in the pool he was sweating that much. He proceeded to talk to us about Singapore and what he had done. The conversation was uncomfortable with his eccentricity, but we smiled and entertained him as we chatted. He was telling us about what we should do in Singapore and mentioned the bike riding around Pulau Ubin Island, where I told him Jess and I would be doing that next weekend. He promptly invited himself along and said that he'd get our numbers to discuss the logistics; leaving me with my mouth open, unusually stuck for words. I just kept thinking; I met you five minutes ago, Chris is caning you about the American measurement system and I'm not even sure if you're meant to be at this party! Needless to say I gave Jess the look of "Don't you dare give him our numbers", and we were good. Chris and I made our excuses about 9:30pm and left Jess to play Karaoke until 5am the next morning.

During the week I got the news I have been waiting for since the day I arrived in Australia. After 3 years and 3 months I was officially made a Permanent Resident of The Land Down Under. To try and explain this to someone who isn't in need of a visa is very difficult. I have never experienced having to have a visa when I lived in France or Spain obviously, and the only other times I needed one was for travelling or for a holiday; so it was a matter of a simple stamp in the passport. I remember landing in Melbourne on January 10th 2012 and wondering how long I was going to be there. I was wondering what life had in store for me in this strange land and how sad I was to have left home. I was worrying about not getting a job, worrying about not liking life here, worrying about not getting a visa if I did like it there. It was a long and expensive process; one where you feel like you're being held back from many things for not being a Permanent Resident; such a medical assistance and job opportunities. The fear of "what if I lose my job and have to leave?" is forever over your head alongside the feeling of work having a hold over you because they're sponsoring you and you can't leave - whether they put this on you or not. And so, eventually; after much drama, Ciara Louise Sweeney became a Permanent Resident of Australia on April 22nd 2015! I received the confirmation email in work and couldn't make our exactly what they were saying as it never actually said anything about becoming a Permanent Resident. It said something about going from 186 Visa through Temporary Transition Stream and my mind was racing so fast that I couldn't read it properly! I printed the page off and ran around the office looking for an Aussie. I found Chris and threw the paper on his desk saying "Read it and tell me I got it!". He read through it slowly and I could barely contain myself with fear and excitement! He confirmed what I hoped to be true and congratulated me on the huge achievement -  I was DYING to share the news with everyone, but nobody there on my team really knew what a struggle it was, or how important it was to me, so I ran around the office looking for Aussies to share my news with! It was so much more than a visa, it was an acknowledgement of how hard I had worked and a sign of how far I had come. It was freedom.
I am free. I am actually free. Free to choose what to do with my life and fight without fear. I have turned another corner and I can't wait to continue to fight hard to see what's around the next one!

Weekend 8

And so, just before the weekend this happened: I go to the gym every morning at the same time before work. The last four or five times there's been this Aussie guy in there, who is super awkward. He is always trying to talk to me, asking if I need to use this machine or those weights or whatever it is he’s using at the time. I usually just smile blankly once and avoid his attempts of trying to catch my eye to start conversation by blaring music into my ears through my headphones. 
This particular morning he was there again. I managed to avoid him (the “gym” is a TINY room by the way) til he was leaving, when he pretty much jumped in front of me and mouthed “Have a good one!” and waved as he left. Yea…see ya.
About five minutes later I’m coming to the end of my workout and he walks by the gym, showered and changed already. That was fast. It is at this point that I must point out there’s absolutely no reason to walk by the gym as there’s nothing but a brick wall on the other side of it. Weird. So I’m gathering my things a couple of minutes later (which is a long time for him to stand at a wall) when he opens the door to the gym and shouts “SORRY-TO-DISTURB-YOUR-WORKOUT-BUT-ARE-YOU-HERE-ON-YOUR-OWN?”. I get a fright and just mumble yes before he blurts out “Yea-Me-too-I’m-going-stir-crazy-in-here-Have-you-found-any-bars?”. I manage to get “No…but I” out of my mouth before he interrupts and says “OK-do-you-want-to-come-with-me-to-one-We-can-try-find-one-together-If-you-want-to-No-pressure-It’s-up-to-you-Whatever-you-want-Anyway-I’ll-find-you-here-in-the-gym-to-organize-the-details-See-ya!” and walked out.
There was no breath taken in the flurry of words that left his mouth and he was long gone before I managed to process what he had actually said. My mouth was still open from the “I” in the sentence I was saying before he had cut me off.
That was the last time I went to the gym, and I spent the last few days in the apartment complex hiding from him! Only me. This would LITERALLY only happen to me.

I FINALLY manage to find a pair of shoes for Bhany's wedding - spending an absolute FORTUNE on them and a matching bag in Kurk Geiger. The shop assistant smiles at me when I tell him I have been looking for weeks, saying "Darling, you're in Singapore now; we don't do silver - only gold". They might as well have been made from pure gold the amount I paid for them!!!

So I finish up my last week in work and get ready to hand everything over to the girl who has come back from Maternity Leave. I'm laughing to myself as I train her up on something I have only been doing two months; but I'm surprising myself on how I seem to know what I'm talking about!
After work I head to Clarke Quay with the IT crew where we spend a few hours chatting and getting to know one another. These people are lovely - it's sad that I'm only getting to know them properly now! From here I head across the water to Timbre and meet Lynnette and Rosalyn who have invited me to go out with them for drinks. We watch a band called "Goodfellas", who are REALLY GOOD, and we're joined by some people from the Sugar team (we're Grain and Oilseeds) and we spend the night chatting together. It was a great night, and it made me sad to think I was leaving! The girls thanked me for all my hard work and surprised me with appreciation they had for all that I'd done. I honestly didn't feel like I'd been helping out that much, but they assured me that I'd done a great job and the fact they didn't need to monitor me was such a help. It made me laugh when Ros told me that I was easy to talk to "despite being white" or when she told me that the other girl had said how I was good at teaching and I should have been a teacher - something that everyone tells me and something my Mother would say "I told you to be a Primary School Teacher, but you wouldn't listen!". They were surprised that I spoke to Senior Management the same way that I spoke to them, showing me that they still had the hierarchical attitude in the office. I learnt more about girls in that one night than in two months working with them.

I find it hard to read the Singaporeans. In Western culture it's easier to tell if someone likes you from their facial expressions or how interested they are in you by their body language. In Asian culture it's much harder as they're either all up in your face wanting to hold your hand or take random photos with you or they're cold, guarded and standoffish even though they like you. In this case I had one guy getting my number and chatting away to me all night; and I couldn't tell if it was because I was different or because he wanted something out of it. In the end, when we were leaving, he offered to share a taxi with me, but I was rescued by Lynnette who said they would take me home. I still don't know if it was a "lucky escape" or not!
Saturday comes and we decide to head to Pulau Ubin island - WITHOUT the American from last week; thankfully. Jess and I get the MRT, then a taxi to the port, then a boat to the island and we rent a couple of bikes (still equipped with the bubble-wrap they came in) and we headed off. The obvious choice of bicycle were the ones with the baskets - hipster and all as we are...obvs. The owner of the shop had a pitch - pretty bikes for pretty young girls. He had me with "young".

So we head off on our orange and blue bikes, with Jess's bike making an awful rubbing sound the entire way - since her bubble wrap was rubbing against the wheel and the mudguard, and my brakes screaming every time I pulled them; safe to say everyone could hear us coming anyway. Most of the trek was flat enough and easy to cycle. It was a very humid day and the sweat was pouring out of us after a few minutes; with our having to get off and push on a number of occasions, if the hill was too steep!

At one stage we get to a hill and stop. I'm slightly ahead of Jess, balancing the bike while trying to put my phone in the Selfie-stick holder when Jess says she's really hot. I agree nonchalantly, saying "yea, it's roasting, isn't it? We'll stop for a sec", but not really paying much attention. It's only when she says "Ciara, I think I'm going to faint" and I turn around to see her white as a sheet and staring blankly at me that my my voice changes and I order to "SIT DOWN". Dropping my phone and other contents into the bike basket and running over to my little wilting Wog I can see she's in a pool of sweat and sitting on the ground, getting eaten by ants and literally on the edge of passing out. She just about stays with us, but isn't all with it for a while, so we sit there for a while, drinking water in the shade and gathering up the energy to go again. 

We decide to turn around and go downhill for a bit and then take it easy pedaling our way around the island until Jess is back to normal again. Apart from the impromptu medical incident it was a great day doing something totally different! We did lots of cycling, saw wild pigs and some lovely scenery, and then ended with some local cuisine and some coconut as we watched a thunder storm come in again. We quickly caught the boat back before the full extent of the storm hit while we were on the water, but I wasn't so lucky getting off the MRT. I had no jacket or umbrella, or even anything with sleeves, but then again you don't need any of these things in the 95% humidity in Singapore. I walked home in the hot rain, getting strange looks at the people taking shelter under bridges or in the buildings; but seeing as though I didn't have an hour to kill, I decided to tick another thing off the list and get caught in the storm. 

Home to get quickly showered and changed and head out for dinner, choosing "The Beast", where we got lucky and managed to get a free table outside. Spent the evening chatting and reminiscing over the last two months in Singapore, the fun times and how we couldn't believe it was over.

Next morning I was packed and I checked out of my tiny apartment (still keeping an eye out for Mr. Gym guy in case he was following me). It was the beginning of the end of it all. Dropping my bags off at The Marina Bay Sands Hotel (like the celebrity that I am...), I headed into the city to join Jess. Brekkie in "Wild Honey" after a wait of about an hour; but it didn't disappoint. We stayed here out of the rain for a number of hours, laughing at others who ordered teeny portions to share and took hours eating them or staring in pure envy at the ROCKS on some of the women's ring fingers. There's no doubt that this place has money.

It's at this point that I decide to end the five month drought of no alcohol and have a couple of drinks to celebrate my getting Permanent Residency as well as my last night in Singapore. Jess was beyond excited, so we grabbed some bottles of wine and nibbles and headed to check into the most expensive hotel around. Not too sure if you're supposed to bring your own wine with you when you're staying in a $500-700 a night room??
When you look at the Marina Bay Sands (, you can't help but be impressed. OK, it may be tacky, but building a ship on top of three skyscrapers is still impressive nonetheless. At an extortionate amount per night, I decided my last night would be here and asked Jess to come too. We checked in and had the bags taken up to our room on the 44th floor. This place is impressive; HUGE bathroom (more on that later), massive bed, city views - I was glad of my decision to spend the money for the experience. We get changed and head up to the main attraction of the hotel - the Infinity Pool - and it's every bit of "WOW" they say it is. We timed it beautifully; getting two lounge chairs on the edge of the pool and just as the sun was going down. It's a funny sight to see - everyone in the pool with their iPads, iPhones, cameras and GoPros. Probably the only pool in the world where nobody swims in it, with everyone being super careful to not splash any water about...well, apart from one weirdo who took the time to start doing laps of the pool (fully equipped with goggles and swimming cap!). Someone please tell her that's not the idea of this pool?!

So, we spent the next couple of hours watching the sun go down over Singapore and watching how the scenery changes from day to night. This city is definitely unique - possibly lacking in life, but full of beauty, amazing architecture and impressive views. You could literally just sit watching it all night.

Many photos and selfies later, we left to get ready' for the night ahead. Hair, makeup, heels - the one night in the two months that I've put this effort in! I can't explain how futile it is to bother when it's so humid the makeup just drips off your face and your hair just goes limp within three minutes of being outside!

We head to a secret restaurant and Jess treats me to some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted! We have a couple of cocktails and decide to look for another bar to continue as it's still only 11pm. The bar tender finds it hard to think of anywhere that would be open on a Sunday night (see what I mean about lacking in life?!), but gives us a couple of options; all that turn out to be closed. As we're walking, we can hear music, so we heading that direction and soon find ourselves in a very male-dominant and tacky Gay Bar. Ordering two vodka-soda-water-and-limes I pay for them and when walking away with drinks in hand the barman tells us there's a promotion on; doubles for the price of one. Thanking him but saying "no thanks", he tells me that he's already given them to us. Oh. Thanks for giving us the option then?!
It was like drinking actual paint stripper. A small glass full to the brim with very cheap turpentine or something that was meant to sterilise medical equipment, I was struggling to drink it and in the end had to leave half of it as it was burning my throat! We stayed for about an hour, listening to Britney and Madonna and then called it a night as I couldn't drink any more of the poison and we had work the next day. Back to the hotel to go to bed. We re-pack and get ourselves organised for the next morning and we go to bed; not exactly the rock-and-roll image I had imagined of us falling in the door smashed; but I had a good night and was probably getting a bit too old for all of that sort of thing...
4am comes and I wake up feeling like I'm about to die. I know what's coming, so I head quietly into the 5-star bathroom and redecorate the toilet with the day's food and drink. I'm sick til I have nothing left to bring up, so I brush my teeth and take a look at myself in the huge mirror covering the length of the wall. White as a sheet and with eyeliner running down my face I start laughing at myself: 32 years old and getting sick from drink in the most expensive hotel I will ever find myself in throughout my life. I surprise even myself with how classy I can be sometimes.
Sneaking back to bed, I get in trying not to disturb Jess. No need; 10 minutes later Jess gets up and goes through the same routine as I had gone through just previously. She comes back to bed and when I ask her if she's OK she says "I've just been sick". I laughed and told her so had I and we both laugh at how mature and refined we were before going back to sleep.

Checking out late the next morning the two of us head into work clutching to life itself. I cannot even think about the eight hour flight I have to do later that evening. We get some breakfast and manage to make it to lunchtime before heading out for food and then I spend the final couple of hours saying my goodbyes to everyone. Both Jess and Ollie walk me downstairs to get a taxi and in a flash I'm on my way to the airport and heading home. I had mixed feelings about going - mostly because it had taken me the full two months to get used to everything here and to feel settled. Just as I was beginning to come round to the way they did things (apart from still not being able to get over the fact they still HANG people on a weekly basis!), I was leaving.

So, although I was happy to be done with the work side of things, I was sad to be leaving the new experiences, the new friends and my Work-Wife Jess; without whom I would have never been able to make it through the stint. Such a sweetheart, a funny girl with so much sparkle; I love her to bits and am so grateful she was there with me. I decided to leave a particular "nice" story out of my blog; but this will be one I will laugh about forever Jess!!
So I hand in my TEM pass and leave Singapore behind, feeling as though I gave it my all and had no regrets. We had done everything we could find time to do in the Lonely Planet and now it was time to go back "home", where I left Irish and am going back Adopted-Aussie! :)