I love real estate. My parents moved house when I was 11 and I remember all the drama and excitement of finding a new home that had ‘character’ and unfortunately no swimming pool. I felt like I was the only kid in Southern California who did not have a swimming pool in her backyard. Looking back I don’t blame them; pools are expensive.
Our last weekend in Sydney coincided with the elections for the Democratic Party Committee Abroad (DPCA) which oversees all DA activities. I was running for International Vice Chair but had little hopes of winning the seat. For a couple days I had contemplated going to London but in the end I decided this move was too important to skip the continent for a few days. The next best thing was watching it online. I only had access to this because I was a candidate.
I tuned in just for the day of elections and watched from 6pm to midnight Sydney time. Roll call started the meeting, making sure all country leaders were present. It was neat to hear everyones names from all over the world. That day of conference included many reports on different aims of the party from gun safety to the website DA uses. Running DA gets very technical very quickly. After the first couple of reports we were told Nancy Pelosi would be ‘dropping by.’ She showed her support for DA and gave a little speech about what was going on in Washington at the moment, all off the record. I was very impressed with her and happy she is from California. My only previous direct interaction with Pelosi was when she was 40 minutes late to a Senate Intern lecture and rushed off stage after a half hour speech She was much more relaxed with DA and candid Maybe she prefers being the underdog a bit.
After our illustrious guest left for her next meeting we got to the business of voting. The voting for Chair was very contentious and a bit slow since they were using the system for the first time but sure enough, put a woman in charge so my candidacy was void. I was glad I had seen it happen and got a lot of insight into the workings of DA. I’m sure in eight years I’ll be able to be a real contender.
I am in the process of moving to my next country: Australia. I told my husband I have to live on islands and he found the largest one he could for me. It will be the second ‘posting’ as an expat in what I hope will be a short string of countries around the globe: hopefully 5 to 6 in the next 10 to 15 years. That’s the draft plan anyway.
During this transition time I’ve been trying to understand what it means to be moving away, what lessons I can remember from my move to Singapore, and what I would like to do to make this transition better than the last. In other words, I’m making a lot of lists. A real balancing act I’m faced with is how to make sure to keep up with the friends you are leaving behind while opening yourself up to the new life you are going to live. I know there are some people I want to stay in touch with and there are some I don’t care to. I’ll have to figure out the best tools to stay in touch with my friends; this took me years to understand with my college and high school friends. At the same time, I need to immediately get into all the clubs and groups in my new location to start reaching out to new friends. It will be a busy couple months for sure.
Last week a number of my girlfriends in Singapore shared an article on FB about being an expat and how difficult it is to keep making new friends all around the world, since eventually you will lose them.
Exciting as it may appear, or ready as a family is to move on, or even as accustomed as a family is to the constant change of residence, expat exoduses are, at best, bittersweet but more often than not, simply painful. I often say that being an expat is a double-edged sword. One may use that sword to trailblaze in far-away lands that are perceived as exciting — where you meet and befriend people you may not have otherwise come across had you stayed in the town of your provenance. Alas, in the expat world, departures and good-byes are never a question of IF, only WHEN and unless you have an infallible heart of titanium, that same sword cuts an emotional wound every single time.
I know I’m new at this but being an expat isn’t the only time I’ve had to leave friends behind. When I was in 5th and 6th grade I moved schools and had to make a new set of friends twice, back to back. I went to college in New York, a long way from Los Angeles, and had to make new friends in what I now recognize as a very different culture. Just because they are American doesn’t mean that East Coasters are the same as West Coasters. So by the time I moved to Singapore I knew about making new friends. In my experience, that is just part of life.
Of course, those friendships from elementary school, college, and other periods of my life have changed but you can still keep up with people if you want to. I follow my daycare friend (yes we met as toddlers) on Instagram; I always send post cards to my high school best friend; I know that twitter is the best way to get the attention of my college friends. I’ll probably be employing FB, tumblr, email, and good old fashioned letters to keep in touch with my Singapore girlfriends.
The only thing you know for sure when you move into another country is that you have yourself with you, and all the tools you have acquired in your life to help you out. If you’re lucky you have your partner to help too. I’m looking forward to sharpening my tools out here in Sydney.
I came across an article this month about Jenna Lyons at J.Crew and her amazing artistic vision and direction for the company. I love J.Crew. A solid 50% of my wardrobe comes from that single store. When I was looking for my first summer job after freshman year of college that’s where I turned. I will never be able to thank them enough for giving an 18 year old with no experience a job. Well, maybe if I reach $25k in purchases that will be enough. Working the women’s section was difficult especially because I closed so well and was asked to work the late shift often. Women have a tendency to knock over and entire stack of shirts to get that bottom size. Folding those again and again is a bitch.
When I went back to New York and needed more money for the taco truck and movies I again went to J.Crew for a job and got one working crewcuts in the flagship store in SoHo. Folding tiny clothes is much easier and women were so gentle with the stock.
One afternoon we were told we had to have our sections perfect for a visit from corporate. This happened regularly enough in the flagship store so I tidied my business and went about it. My section was the second room from the entrance so I was kind of up early in the corporate rounds of the floor. A older man from corporate came to look around. When he asked if there was any issues with the product I boldly stated that the children’s slippers were priced higher than the adult slippers and if any customer noticed they would probably be put off. We should drop the price of the children’s slippers.
And this is when I learned the lesson that no matter how far down the company ladder you are, you must know who the top managment is. The man said thank you and moved on to the next room while my manager came over and snapped at me a little for telling Mickey Drexler his slippers were too expensive. After reading this article though, I’m pretty sure he appreciated it.
A big part of my childhood summers was listening to my grandparents talk about their experience abroad when my grandfather worked for the State Department in far away places like Ivory Coast and Sweden. If my mother can blame SATC for moving me to New York for college I can blame these stories for moving me out of the country after graduation. C and I thought about applying for the foreign service but when it came down to it, I don’t have the language skills and he wants more flexibility. It’s always up for review.
My grandmother made sure I joined the Democrats Abroad practically upon arrival to Singapore. Our first event was Baraktober fest at the local American style brewery on the quays. It immediately felt like this was a club we could be a part of. Over the next three years we attended nearly all events, kept inviting our new friends to join, and became very close with the leadership. Democrats Abroad (DA), more than any other American organization I joined in Singapore, made me feel like I was still connected to my country.
I encouraged my sister and her husband to join their local chapter when they moved to Edinburgh last year. This opened up an opportunity for my brother-in-law to pull the trigger on something I mentioned often that I wanted to do: run for office. As a fellow Democrat Abroad he could nominate me for the upcoming election of DA officers. He nominated me for International Vice Chair. I will be the first to admit I do not have much in the way of formal experience. The other candidates are supremely more qualified. However, fresh perspective and my handle on social media would probably be most welcome.
Below you can see my answers to the Candidate Statement questionnaire. They are also posted on the DA site here: Kathryn Bache profile.
DA Member since: YEAR: 2009 COUNTRY(IES) Singapore
Bio (Include relevant experience, e.g., in management, community organizing, volunteer work, publishing, professional achievements and affiliations) (max 150 words)
I am a researcher and political analyst living in Singapore. I graduated Cum Laude from New York University with a bachelors in History and Economics. I have worked in politics in many different capacities, including volunteer manager in city council races, Capital Hill intern for my Senator (D-California), and poll analyst. My most recent job was as a political consultant working on a startup online polling company in South East Asia. In Singapore I have volunteered with the Friends of the Library and helped out the Democrats Abroad Lion City club whenever possible. I also am the founder of the NYU Alumni Club of Singapore.
Describe your volunteer work with DA and cite your greatest DA accomplishment (max150 words).
Democrats Abroad was the first organization I sought out when I moved to Singapore. Since joining in 2009 I have helped the committee by recruiting new members, giving feedback on events, and helping publicize the club on social media. Specifically, my goal has to been to get young adults more involved in the club as we are a large (and growing), yet underrepresented, group. My greatest accomplishment lies in being recognized by the leadership for my passion.
Why are you running for this office (max 200 words)?
I would like to bring a young adult perspective to the leadership of Democrats Abroad. The recent economic situation in America has pushed more young people out of the job market and overseas than ever before. As the representative of the Democratic Party in the rest of the world, the DA has a responsibility to engage this growing group of young people, welcome their talents, and connect them back to American Democracy throughout this busy and tumultuous time in their lives and careers. I hope that as a member of the leadership of this body I can raise up the voices of the young adults among us.
How will your skill sets and experience contribute to DA’s success (max 150 words)?
My skills working on campaigns in America and on events for Democrats Abroad would be valuable to the Democrats Abroad Committee. My professional background is in political polling and social media so I have the requisite communication and planning skills to aid the committee in its work. Additionally, my volunteer and social experience has been focused on organizing people and events, which I believe should be a critical part of the function of our organization. I have a lot of energy and am passionate about the cause, which I hope to use to connect with others who feel they can get engaged because they are living outside of America.
If elected what are the three top issues you will work to affect and how (max 200 words)?
My top issues are the inclusion of young adults in the voice of Democrats Abroad, confronting issues of citizenship for children and non-citizen spouses of Americans abroad, and improving the web presence of Democrats Abroad. I moved abroad when I was 23 and am seeing many young people follow this trend. Some do not have any experience as politically active adults and so it is up to Democrats Abroad to engage them and help them keep informed on American politics. As the number of young people moving abroad rises it is becoming more and more important to review citizenship issues surrounding marriage and children overseas. Lastly, these young people are more interested in finding out about DA events online and registering to vote online. These web resources should have a high priority in our organization’s strategy to engage more Democratic voters abroad.
What three planks of the 2012 DA Platform are you most passionate about and why (max 200 words)?
Citizenship Transmission (page 3 of Democrats Abroad Platform): All Americans should be very concerned that any child born to an American Citizen could ever be considered stateless. It is critical that we provide citizenship to all children of American citizens regardless of their place of birth.
Census of Americans Aboard (page 2 of DA Platform) We are Americans and as such we have the right to be counted. Our numbers will speak louder and carry more weight if they are accurate. As a political pollster I am particularly sensitive to this issue.
Electronic voting (page 21 of DA Platform) As an intern in the US Senate I worked in the Rules Committee on researching legislation to rationalize electronic voting. In the intervening years I have seen the countless problems with these electronic voting machines and support the DA platform in calling for suspending touch screens until we can verify their security.
What can Democrats Abroad do to increase its profile among voters globally and better work to elect Democrats (max 150 words)?
Democrats Abroad should be more active in connecting with all American organizations in their city or country, and should definitely have an online or facebook presence that new potential members and new voters can connect to. For young people who have just moved abroad, the biggest hurdle is just finding out about the DA – we can only get voters engaged if they know about us and we have a way to reach them. Keeping voters engaged is another challenge that can be overcome by better connectivity. For many Democrats abroad, the DA gives them the chance to regularly meet with like-minded people they may not otherwise get to engage with, so each organization should maintain at least regular quarterly events so that interest in the party and the club can be sustained, rather than just focusing on events during an election cycle.
How can DA work best with the Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee to represent the issues of Americans living abroad? What can be enhanced or improved in this relationship (max 150 words)?
The DC office of Democrats Abroad should strengthen existing relationships with the Democratic Party as well as individual DA members continuing to communicate their concerns with individual congress members under the header of DA. I would suggest creating a regional newsletter that would be sent to citizens abroad from their US resident regions, i.e. West Coast. This would keep citizens abroad engaged at the federal as well as state level.
What will you do to grow DA and ensure greater overall participation by Chapter Members (max 150 words)?
I will work to better publicize events on social media and create conversation between country clubs. We have shared dreams and frustrations as Americans and Democrats abroad and it would help every member to have a better forum to share those.
You can see the full list of candidates for all positions here along with their bios. The elections will be held at the general meeting this weekend in London. I am unable to attend because of our moving situation and flights are expensive on such short notice. I do plan on watching the proceedings online. Maybe in eight years I’ll be ready to get to the general meeting. Right now, I’m excited to have my hat in the ring, to have made such good friends in Singapore’s club, and to meet up with the Sydney chapter. May the best candidate win.
Last summer at the end of the Bike Trip I made sure to take my siblings to the MET in New York for the morning. I’m not even sure which exhibit I was intent on seeing but I knew I couldn’t be in New York and not go. After paying the suggested doanation for all five of us the total bill awarded me an out-of-state membership. I get their emails now which just make me jealous that I don’t live in the city. I would have loved to see the guided tour of the Matisse exhibit before it opened. And yes, please sign me up next time for dining in the galleries. This last email highlighted legal issues they are facing in their sugested entrance fee. Someone is suing them because they don’t think it’s clear enough that the museum entrance is a suggested price. Apparently, historically the MET was also to be a institution free to the public.
I can tell you, as a student living in New York I was keenly aware that the MET was free and I went their frequently because of it. During my freshman year at NYU I must have gone twenty times and only paid a dollar or two or nothing each I visit because I could. As an adult with a paycheck now I pay the recommended fee and make sure to shop at the museum gift shop. Here is a snippet of the MET’s explanation:
So why did the Met introduce suggested contributions in the early 1970s? We hope the answer is obvious to anyone who remembers the Museum as it once was. The Met is now twice the size and must fund the maintenance of far more expansive galleries and a significantly larger collection, visited by three or four times as many people. Our costs—everything from guards to insurance to publications—have increased commensurately with this growth.
Even so, the Met has never imposed a fixed admission fee. Nor do we ever charge an extra fee to visit any of our world-renowned special exhibitions. One contribution at the door still enables you to see everything—the permanent collection covering over five thousand years of art, The Cloisters museum and gardens, and exhibitions devoted to topics as broad as Byzantium and Islam, Alexander McQueen, and the American Civil War. We often have as many as ten special exhibitions open at a time.
I side with the MET. While visiting Sydney I have run into this same issue where the permanent galleries are free but special exhibits are an extra ticket. In Singapore, starting this year the museums are only free to her citizens. I would much rather have a donation entrance fee for the entire museum; it somehow feels more welcoming. So keep up the good fight, MET. This member is behind you.
On Monday, April 1st, my last day in Singapore for a while, I went to see the Bukit Brown Cemetery. I am naturally attracted to cemeteries. I find the way we choose to immortalize ourselves or our loved ones fascinating. My friend had warned me that while I am in Sydney the exhumation of the graves would begin so this was my last chance to see the intact burial grounds. Some three thousand graves in the heart of the cemetery are going to be demolished after Qing Ming, the annual tomb sweeping festival, this year to make way for an eight lane highway flyover.
The Bukit Brown Cemetery is situated south of MacRitchie Reservoir and thus has interesting nature and wildlife unseen in the rest of Singapore. The hill was originally named Seh Ong or Lau Sua in Hokkien, Kopi Sua or Coffee Hill. The following from the Bukit Brown Cemetery Documentation Project describes the development of the cemetery:
Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) was the first Chinese municipal cemetery in colonial Singapore. As early as 1904, the Chinese community in Singapore had been lobbying the municipal government to set aside a cemetery for non-Christian Chinese. At that time, such burial needs were taken care of through private family cemeteries or clan association cemeteries. However, changes in the laws then were constricting the amount of space available for such burial grounds, which was why the Chinese clamored for a public cemetery to take care of their burial needs. The colonial government was reluctant to venture into starting a municipal cemetery for the Chinese because they expected that the Chinese, with their beliefs in geomantic principles (with very individualized preferences for size and direction, and therefore given to what would appear like a haphazard layout), would not be willing to subject themselves to the grid-like standard plots of a municipal cemetery. However, by the late 1910s, the municipal government was convinced that such a cemetery was feasible, and by 1919 had acquired 173 acres of land for the public cemetery.
In 1922, BBC became the first Chinese municipal cemetery to be opened by the colonial government. It was a cemetery that did not require communal affiliations, that is, a relationship with a family or clan, before one could be buried. Thus, it was the first Chinese cemetery that facilitated a pan-Chinese identity in organizational and spatial terms. That is, Chinese of diverse communal origins, such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese, or surnames could be buried next to each other.
Initially, the Chinese were reluctant to subject themselves to the discipline of a municipal cemetery. It was more than three months before the first burial took place, and only 93 were buried in the cemetery during its first year of operation. However, by 1929, more than 40% of all burials within municipal limits were at Bukit Brown. It became acceptable and commonplace for Chinese of different communal origins, whether rich or poor, elite or commoner, to be buried at Bukit Brown. This trend continued till 1944 when the cemetery became full, although those with reserved plots could still be buried in BBC till it was officially closed in 1973. As such, it is also commonplace for Chinese Singaporeans today to have ancestors buried in Bukit Brown.
In the early part of the 20c when the cemetery was established there were few pan-Chinese institutions. Even banks were organized to serve specific clans or ethnic affiliations. Bukit Brown was one element in creating a sense of being Chinese in Singapore instead holding to a clan identify.
Although it was in the western style of municipal plots, the graves at Bukit Brown are all aligned with the contours of the land so that they face downhill. All Chinese put priority in the feng shui or geomatics of the grave: the water should flow through the grave, linger a little while, and then leave. The tombs themselves are beautiful. Most consist of the tombstone with a outlined mound behind and a courtyard in front. Hokkien style tombs also incorporate the shoulder of the tombstones, arms, and two tomb terraces while Teochew style graves have curved courtyards decorated with gourds, chairs, scroll pillars, arms, and guardian deity. I even found a very art deco variation. The names of children who built the grave, the deceased birth place, age and day of death are recorded on the tombs. Some of them are buried with multiple wives, the record of which is 6. Free plots were distributed to the poor. The graveyard holds soldiers from WWII as well as some Dutch-Chinese, Japanese-Chinese, and Indonesian-Chinese people.
The graves were built with local brick, Shanghai plaster, granite, malacca stone, marble, and European, Japanese or Indian tiles. Around this graveyard generations of tomb keepers, headstone carvers, and vendors lived to support the business of Bukit Brown. The government is supporting the collection of oral histories of these communities as part of the pacification of protesters. Traditional Chinese ancestor worship including burning joss and leaving food offerings for your ancestors. You can still see colored paper littering the cemetery. When I visited I saw about a dozen parties throughout the cemetery burning paper and leaving a variety of offerings. I took the opportunity to ask one woman what they would do with their ancestors headstone. She said they would leave it. These beautiful rare headstones are going to be discarded.
I asked out uncle in the taxi to the airport whether he had heard of Bukit Brown. His response, in a thick Singlish accent was that the demolition was terrible. He told a story about how the British would hide in the cemetery during the war because they knew Chinese and Japanese were too afraid to go their at night.
The Economist published an article about Bukit Brown pointing out that this Qing Ming the grave of the Prime Ministers great-grandfather, Lee Hoon Leong, has not yet been cleaned. This is the best metaphor for the demolition of the graves I have heard of. The government finds it easier to create something new than to take care of the old. It’s a very sad state of affairs but I’m glad I got to walk in the cemetery.
You can see pictures of the Bukit Brown Cemetery on my tumblr: kbache.tumblr.com
Here is a link to my video diary from the cemetery.