MY friend Tacky leans over and purrs in his American accent: “We both need to face it, you’re just not hot in the tropics.” We’re in Bali, drinking the lethal Indonesian rum the locals call Arak. I’m complaining to Tacky about the GFC (Global Female Crisis: a lack of men). Tacky is dead right. While I sweat bucket loads up in Singapore, I’m seriously not hot. Not in the dating sense. We both agree I’m a better version of myself south of the Equator, which tends to exclude a fair whack of the world.
Singaporeans, it must be said, are even less tactful than Tacky. I wear a new red dress to work and stop at my local fruit seller “Ah, Chris, you look good in red lah, but don’t wear black, you look terrible in black.” In the lift, my Asian colleagues launch into a conversation about my weight. “Chris, you lose some weight can?” “Um, no, I haven’t lost any weight,” I reply awkwardly, while 8 sets of eyes fix firmly on my buttocks. “Yes, Chris not so fat, lah?” they discuss among themselves. My British mate Murray has a theory that after 2pm Ang Mohs or “red devils” as the Singaporeans like to call us, start to go off in the heat. Murray should know, he perspires so much he looks like he’s battling malaria every single day. He reckons we smell like vinegar. I come to the stinking realisation he is right. So, not only by Singaporean standards am I fat and poorly dressed, I now also pong. My theory isn’t helped when my boss decides to implement a seating reshuffle and positions me next to a Singaporean colleague. “I don’t want to sit near her,” my colleague announces to the meeting. Everyone, including me laughs. After the meeting she approaches me: “I wasn’t joking. I don’t want to sit near you.” I try to sniff my armpits without being caught.
To escape the unwanted attention, I meet Tacky for a Balinese holiday. The locals call us Tom & Jerry. He’s Tom. They also think we are married but remain confused as to why we have separate rooms. Around this Indonesian paradise we roam, which I punctuate with intermittent moans: “Where are all the men?” Tacky suspects they are all in Kuta, one spot on the island to which he has refused to accompany me. “If you can’t find a man in Kuta you are seriously not trying hard enough,” he says, before waving me off with a final word of warning: “Just stay out of trouble.”
I manage to do this for all of one hour. Right up until check-in at my hotel where I discover my booking has been cancelled. I’m a little bit tired, a little bit hot and a little bit ready to go home. I toss my passport onto the counter with a little more enthusiasm than usual. They give me a room key and someone else’s passport back in return. I intend to spend the rest of my days travelling the world as Natascha from Minsk. I’m convinced she has better luck with men than me.
I wander the beach, witness a fiery beach funeral ceremony, drink icy cold beer and have a head massage. I frolic in the first surf I’ve seen in many, many months and read a “penny dreadful” as my great, great grandmother used to call romance novels. I have one afternoon to live it up before I return to Singapore. I feel like an escaped prisoner on the lamb. I linger over some lychee martinis before wandering down to the main drag of Kuta. It’s loud and lively and before long I’m dancing in a Reggae bar where brash Balinese “rent boys” rub their bodies against me. It dawns on me that I have become one of those sad women who dance to Bob Marley while attracting young male prostitutes in foreign bars. All I need now is a floral kaftan and a bad sunburn. Tacky’s words linger in my ears. “Don’t get into trouble.” I walk home alone and am offered sex and drugs, both of which I politely refuse to the dodgy dude on the motorbike in the dark back alley in which I find myself. I run all the way back to my hotel room and lock the doors. I picture waking up with a dead body beside me, half a dozen Indonesian police standing by my bed, and no plausible explanation for what has happened.
I fly back into Singapore. I’m in search of its soul but so far, all I can find is sweat. On a bright note, I never need to shop for vinegar again.