Each week, we ask, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"
This week, we hear from Amanda Mortlock, director of development of the film arm of a graphic novel publisher:
"My mom is Singaporean. I think her mom was from Hong Kong.
"Her dad was Straits Chinese, which is this mix of Malay and Chinese blood. I think his family had been in Singapore for a while - although Singapore is like a 200-year-old country, so 'a while' is not long.
"My dad is English. He's very English, very colonial. He loves spicy foods. He's always like, 'let's go!'
"My parents met in London. My mom and all her sisters had gone aboard to study. Then my mom got a job and that's where she met my dad.
"I was born in England -- technically, I'm English. I had to wear little hats and blazers to school. It was very cute.
"We lived there until I was eight-years-old. Then my mom got pregnant with my brother. She wanted the support of her sisters - who by this time were back in Singapore - so we moved.
"My first day of school in Singapore, I saw someone eating French fries. I was like, 'Where are people getting the chips from?'
"The other kids were like, 'They don't have chips here.' In Singapore, they say, 'fries' even though much of the language is British English. I thought, 'All these kids are lying to me! I see them all walking around with chips.'
"Food is a big part of life in Singapore. Everything you do is centered around, 'What am I going to eat next?' I first came to Los Angeles to attend USC.** The food here was a big difference. You show up for school and you're like, 'A salad? That's not doing it for me.' The same goes for sandwiches.
"In Singapore, we would eat steamed chicken and rice for breakfast. We had smaller portions but ate often -- and these were elaborate meals with lots of things going on.
"Laksa and rending - two styles of curries -- and mee pok, a noodle dish are a couple of examples. We'd also make Mi Goreng, an Indian-Chinese noodle dish. But the instant Ramen version is the one that everyone eats and what everyone here misses -- Mi Goreng is every Singaporean kid's comfort food.
"Our family used to know a pilot who did the L.A.-Singapore route. My mom would send me a suitcase full of spice packets and noodles and condiments whenever she thought I needed them to recreate those meals from afar.
"USC recruited at my high school. It worked -- there were probably ten people from my school who enrolled.
"I walked up to the school's table and saw a picture they had that said, 'George Lucas Way.' I was like, 'All right! I could do that.'
"I knew that I wanted to do TV and film. Singapore's is such a small country -- the population is like five million -- and its film industry is miniscule compared to L.A.'s.
"USC has a mixed degree program where you do a business degree and your emphasis is film instead of marketing or finance. That's how I got here.
"I stayed because there was just no market in the Singaporean film industry, except for financing. I suppose there are a few jobs where you have to do everything. I'm much more of a story person. There, it's like, you do the script and then you hold the camera and then you edit.
"After I settled in, I loved USC. My freshman dorm was the Radisson Hotel! We had a private bathroom -- we didn't have to share with like 1,000 people. And we all could use the hot tub on the first floor. We did our homework in that hot tub -- you tell that to your friends back home that and it sounds super-Californian.
"I didn't know how to drive when I got here because Singapore is so small and there is great public transportation. Also, you can't get a license until you are eighteen, which is when I was leaving for college. And it costs $90,000 just to get a permit, to then buy a car -- it is very expensive.
"I started learning to drive my sophomore year. I used to intern and I would take a bus, which was really traumatic. It's a really long bus ride from USC to usually West Hollywood or Beverly Hills.
"My junior year I told my mom some of my horror stories from the bus. She was trying to get me to be independent, but then after she heard what happens on the bus, she was like, 'Never mind! You don't have to be that independent.'
"Before I came to L.A., I had never seen homeless people before. There was one guy in Singapore who used to busk in an underpass tunnel, but that was the only brush I'd had. So being around USC and being on the bus, that was jarring.
"I bought an old SUV. I'm a terrible driver. I liked to wrap myself around poles a lot and I'm really bad at parking, which is how I had my first accidents. I go with the stereotype: Female. Asian driver. Terrible.
"Singapore doesn't have cities, just streets or neighborhoods.
"My family lived by Orchard Road, the big shopping street. We lived next door to the Istana, which is the equivalent of the White House.
"We were lucky because our condominium was at the end of the road; people towards the middle of the road couldn't have windows facing the direction of the Palace because they were afraid you might snipe the President.
"We lived on the fifth floor and my brother had a telescope that he used to point towards the Istana -- it's so nice, there's a golf course and stuff.
"One day, the Palace Guards knocked on our door and said, 'You have to take that down, because it looks like you are keeping watch.' My brother was five-years-old.
"Let me think... What else can I tell you? Singapore is a really sweaty place. You get out of the shower and you're like, 'I'm still damp.' That was another reason to leave, along with the allergies.
"I do miss the rain. I think it's funny how everything here stops working when it rains. I maintain that it's not just because the drivers that are bad. I think it's that the infrascturuce wasn't built for precipitation. The traffic lights stop working. The cat's eyes on the roads -- the lane dividers -- don't glow enough. Nothing works and traffic gets bad and people freak out.
"In L.A., things are broken. Even in nice areas, the roads are uneven, there aren't a lot of streetlights, there aren't a lot of trashcans. In Singapore, everything is planned. We were taught a lot about the infrastructure of the city in school in social studies because they want you to know how good they are doing.
"When I was eleven, we were taught about umbrella trees. These are planted along all the big streets. We were told they are good because they don't have deep roots but they have very far-reaching branches. They provide a lot of shade without digging up the roads. It was interesting coming here where there aren't a lot of trees on the streets.
"The first day I came to L.A., a distant relative met me and drove me around. It was kind of gray -- it was an early summer L.A. day. And he was like, 'Lock your doors.' I was like, 'What?'
"He drove me to UCLA -- which I had understood to be in the suburbs and remember, I'm used to Downtown being the place to be. We got there and the clouds were breaking and it was all sunny and idyllic and there were trees everywhere. Like I said, I loved USC, but seeing UCLA, my first impression was, 'I've made a terrible mistake!'
"Today, I'm director of development at the film arm of a graphic novel publisher. We have a catalog of 30 comic books and my job is to move those into film. Last week -- depending when you're reading this -- I was at Comic-Con, which I look forward to every July.
"I have an H1-B visa. I got it when I was a story editor, my original position with company. I coordinate a lot with the Asian office and we have Asian investors -- we need someone who understands the culture.
"I've come a long way. My senior year of college, I had an unpaid internship that had a ten-dollar lunch stipend. Sometimes when they'd take us out to lunch instead, I'd be like, 'I need those ten dollars! How will I pay for gas?'
"I think I will be staying in the U.S. I know I'd like to stay. The worry for a foreigner is always getting deported. That's always my general fear: 'What if I do this and get deported?'
"I used to threaten a lot of people, 'I'm going to get you drunk and bring you to Vegas and then we'll be married!' All my guy friends, I was like, 'Okay, watch out!' I always bring a white dress to Vegas."
-- Amanda Mortlock
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
- Departures References:
- KCET.org Socal Food -- The Spice Table
- KCET -- Shermay Lee & Peranakan cooking
- SoCal Focus - Susan Straight's commentary, includes Singapore mention
**Jeremy Rosenberg works there.
Top Photo: Amanda Mortlock, eating a dossa during a recent trip back to Singapore. Photo courtesy Amanda Mortlock
Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com