Shalla's been into Milo lately. A better alternative to coffee, she surmises.

It shouldn't be a problem, as I have been choosing Milo over coffee for as long as I live. There's always a pack of powder in the kitchen cabinets. It's a childhood habit that's hard to shake, even if recent years have seen more exceptions to the rule.

But she's been into the ready-to-drink kind. Easier to get from the fridge, and arguably, tastes better. Yes, I know there's fun in making your own glass and having to contend with the powder rising up to the top despite your every effort to stir. I remember seeing members of the Singaporean and Malaysian diaspora romanticize it online and going, well, that is our thing too! before remembering that I felt it a waste of powder at some point and deciding the best solution is to add a little almost lukewarm water to dissolve the Milo before you add the cold water.

And yet, the ready-to-drink Milo somehow tastes better. Even if you try making your own glass the same way the packaging instructs you to - four heaping tablespoons of the stuff - it still doesn't quite work the same way. The Milo you get in vendo machines, or dispensers at the office canteen, or in Tetra Briks, feels fuller, goes down smoother. It's hard to explain - and frankly, I don't think my colleagues who work in NestlĂ© can shed light on it. Is it the constant agitation? Do I have to be stirring my glass for hours?

So we've been buying the ready-to-drink ones, at least for her. I still prefer to make my own glass; it's part of my routine now. That means stocking up during my weekly grocery runs. For one, it's always cheaper at the supermarket. There's also the fact that the two convenience stores nearest to me somehow don't carry it. I mean, they do, they have, but not at this moment, and not for the past couple of weeks. Supply issues?

One thing people constantly going on about "adulting" don't mention is how, when you've done enough of the shopping, you already have a mental list of where things are sold and where things aren't. When we had our collective English breakfast tea phase we knew we can't rely on Marketplace to carry those big boxes of Twinings; we had to go to SM for that. But with the nearest one not having the best meat selection, and the better one being a long walk away, that had to go.

In the case of the Milo packs, there's always some of them sold at the Pan de Manila downstairs, between the two convenience stores. Lucky for me, I'm in the middle of a pan de sal phase, especially when I luck out and get some really warm ones. (Always nice with peanut butter. Smooth, not chunky.) Lucky for Shalla, too, as she's also having a similar phase. She finds that she enjoys dipping it in a mug of... hot Milo, which she would make, but of course.

This morning, I found there's only one box of Milo ready-to-drink left. I make a mental note. I bet it won't be restocked for the next few weeks. Grocery, you're our only hope now.

I was writing that essay in my head on my way back from the bakery when I smelled something familiar, but distant. Also, utterly specific. I was smelling a copy of The Straits Times.

It has been so long since I last went to Singapore. Four years, in fact, and that was technically a layover, when Shalla and I returned from our trip to Kuala Lumpur. (We know there are direct flights - were direct flights - but when Singapore Airlines tickets are on sale, you take them. As long as you're not crammed on a budget airline. Or maybe that's me, my taller-than-many frame, and my resulting need for leg room.) It wasn't even a particularly fun side jaunt. My belt buckle broke as we packed in our hotel room, which meant I spent one day in three countries, riding a taxi, a train, a bus, two planes and a car, with my pants falling down. And yes, we considered buying a belt at Changi, but designer items at duty free prices is still too much compared to the inconvenience I'd feel until I get home.

I got my last copy of The Straits Times on the short flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. I've had access to copies of that newspaper for - wow - 23 years now, and it remains as hefty and dense as when I first saw it, when my father brought home a copy from one of his work trips there. (That first copy has a feature on - yes - where in Singapore you can have sex in the car without being caught.) Also, it has this particular smell, that admittedly intoxicating blend of newsprint and ink that tells me I'm reading a newspaper from somewhere else. It's the smell of every newspaper in Singapore. Granted, that's because there's only one newspaper publisher in Singapore.

I'm not sure what it really was that I smelled as I entered the building lobby. Probably something from the construction site, perhaps mixed with the smell of cocoa powder from the Ricoa factory nearby. Still, my head told me it's The Straits Times, and that's triggered memories of the first time I had ice kachang (on that same layover), or when I found myself walking Orchard Road without an umbrella during a sudden downpour, or when I lost that very umbrella a few days later, somewhere at the National Library, while visiting Malia. 

I'm rotting in this country, am I?

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