SINGAPORE - Ordinarily, Australians are never sure what to say. Whenever I visit the country and open my mouth long enough for them to trace my accent, they exclaim: "Ah, you're from England. What do you think about the Ashes?"
"Actually, I don't live in England," I mutter. "I live in Singapore."
Their faces drop. Aussies love meeting Brits - just to tell them how much they hate Brits. They don't actually say they hate Brits, they instead bring up all the sports where they are superior to the Brits.
There used to be cricket, rugby and cycling and now there's er ... and er ... But at least they have the sports connection with the Brits. Singapore gives them nothing.
I am typing this column in Queensland's Gold Coast.
Yes, the trip was booked months ago. No, I didn't flee the haze. Yes, I feel dreadfully guilty. There's a part of me that wishes for an Australian bush fire or a flash flood just to make me feel better.
I'm thoroughly delighted that - as I write - the PSI index is in the healthy range. But I can't lie. The haze has proven to be a terrific ice-breaker in Australia.
Until the haze came along, I watched Australians struggle.
As soon as they realised that I lived in Singapore, rather than England, their minds were off and racing. They tried to join the dots.
He's a white man. He's a white man with a London-ish accent. He lives in Singapore. So he lives in China. Maybe he leaked national secrets... No, wait, Singapore isn't near China, it's near Hong Kong... What do we know about Singapore? They ban all chewing gum.
That's it. He's a white, cockney, chewing gum smuggler.
That's an obvious exaggeration. I've never had a cockney accent. But you have no idea - NO IDEA - how many inane conversations I've endured (as I'm sure you have) about the tedious topic of chewing gum.