The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

When two become five – The beginning of this Expat Life

on September 25, 2013

I think I should start off with sharing this photo with you.

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Yep, it’s a clear sign that traveling Business Class is not something I do all the time. Or have done before or since. Otherwise there would be no need for photographic evidence of the occasion. I’m sure the Frequent Flyer man dressed in his suit and tie for the whole trip often gets asked to photograph the once in a lifetime Freebie Flyers.

In my defence, I was flying out on one of the new Singapore Airlines A380 double deckers. Such a waste though. I really, really wish I could have said to Husband’s work, ‘Would you mind putting me in Economy for now and let me travel Business Class when I can fully appreciate the whole thing?’.

Husband had already returned to Singapore for work so Nana Moon bade me a teary farewell (me teary, not her, she too is quite stoical) at Heathrow Airport. Off I wandered in search of the Singapore Airlines Business Class lounge but as it was a late night flight, not much was going on and I was too busy talking to my Mum and Mr Li for last minute Goodbyes. I could hear that Mr Li was getting upset before I rung off so now I know his stoicism is all false bravado. So I get on the plane and immediately change into comfortable jogger bottoms in the toilet that actually allows you room to stick your elbows out without touching the walls. Now, where is this extra elbow room when you’re flying Economy and need to change small people’s nappies?

Being five months preggers I had to decline the complimentary champagne, Singapore Slings and wine with dinner that came with real wine glass and cutlery but I did get extra packs of the A380 commemorative playing cards though. A waste of an experience I tell you because it’s no fun traveling high brow if you’re on your own and have no one to marvel with at how wide the seats are or how they recline into beds with nice pillows and blankets.

Having never been to Singapore before, you’d think I’d have a big file of research telling me everything I ought to know before landing. I know people who compile a big file of research for a week’s holiday in France. Somehow I never got round to it. I actually knew nothing about Singapore and figured I’d been to Hong Kong a few times so how different could it be? Well, it’s a good job I wasn’t relocating to somewhere that doesn’t carry the title Easy Asia. In between wrapping up things in the UK and the fact that Husband was already out in Singapore, I just thought it would all be ok.

Singapore is definitely ‘Easy Asia’. Majority speak a form of English, signs are written in English, toilets come with both sitting or squatting options, television is mostly US imports and food is easily identifiable. That was a close call then. I also thought, ‘We’re moving to Asia, everything is going to be much cheaper. How misguided I was and I still lament the fact I should have bought all the baby paraphernalia and a futon mattress in the UK plus a Waitrose and Tescos Extra and have it all shipped over for free!

To suddenly find yourself in a new country in your mid thirties inbetween identities is not an easy position. There’s nothing like having the rug pulled from under your feet to give yourself a good wake up call. I was in a comfortable set up before all this and now I wasn’t. Add in some additional hormones and you have quite a mix. We lived in a serviced apartment just five minutes walk from where we live now actually. Not far from the river and very central. Besides looking for an apartment to live in and going to see an Obstetrician, I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself with all this free time. There would be some days when I would have spoken to no one whilst Husband was at work, not even the cashier in the supermarket who would just point to the total owed.

So how do you find new friends from scratch at a time in your life when you thought you already had all the friends you would ever need? Well, you just have to get out there and talk to everyone and hope they are kind enough to talk to you back. And I was lucky. At my second visit to the Obstetricians I came upon Mad Cat Woman (if she didn’t identify herself when I first alluded to her in ‘Live the life you have always dreamed of’ then she will now), who was an experienced Expat having spent five years in Dubai so she had obviously done her research because within days she had a home, car and school for her #1 all sorted out (Happy Birthday to her #1 today too). When I next move countries that’s going to be me. Mad Cat Woman has boundless energy, is very British and is exactly the type of person you want to meet when you are new to the Expat game. You need someone you can identify with who can chivvy you along.

The next woman I met, Mrs BA, is truly one of the loveliest people I could chance upon on a Sunday afternoon having lunch at Dempsey and admiring her chubby cheeked baby. She didn’t have to say more than a few polite pleasantries but she gave me her number, invited me to her Baby Group and she came to see me in hospital after #1 arrived and she gave unwavering support when Husband and I needed it the most. If you have had children then you know how important the presence of family is when a new baby arrives. We didn’t have family around us but we had the kindness of people we had only just met. They came to see us, they kept in touch, they helped us unravel the mystery of a newborn baby when we were just clueless.

Mrs BA has moved on to other countries since then but each time establishes a strong supportive network of friends with ease and that is something worth emulating no matter where you are. In July, she, along with a few other wonderful women I met through her, came back to Singapore to celebrate their own Five Year Re-Union, it was so good to see them all. I may be Mum to three children now but I’ll never forget the huge helping hand I got to start me off. Looking after your first brand new baby is a terrifying experience, you are suddenly left in charge of this tiny, crying, vulnerable new life. It really helps when you have people telling you that you’re doing a great job no matter what your parenting style is. You need people to be supportive and not judgemental and I was fortunate enough to happen upon such a group of women.

I’m not going to list all the people I have met in chronological order but these two in particular, set the ball rolling for me. The list would never end anyway. They say Singapore is a hub for people moving on to other places. Life is very transient, I’ve said Goodbye to so many people and I feel like I always have to replenish my networks. It’s easier these days with #1 and 2 at school, our calendar is always full but I’ll always remember the empty months when I first arrived and so if I come across someone new to Singapore, I will always give them a warm welcome. Sometimes it doesn’t go beyond a couple of meetings but then you can’t hit it off with everyone. Friendships can develop at an alarming rate because you are moving in a smaller circle with a lot more free time but equally such intensity can highlight your own shortcomings that perhaps your friends back home don’t notice or forgive you more easily for.

I’m telling you this because I’m actually amazed at how little preparation I did for After the Big Move. I was too busy doing the Before the Big Move stuff to think about what it would be like and perhaps that’s been a good thing to have no expectations. I’m lucky that we’ve landed on our feet and have met the people we have, that has enabled us to enjoy a happy five years here and makes the sacrifice of distance from family and a life familiar much easier to bear.

I was advised that the first six months would always be the hardest of any international move, coupled with the arrival of #1, I think we gave ourselves a lot to work on but you know what, you just get on with it.

So I think I’ll finish this part for now and I’ll tell you more about this Expat life I’m living another time. I’ve got Book Club tomorrow night (I have always wanted to be part of a Book Club! So grown up), we are reviewing Room by Emma Donoghue and Summer in February by someone else.

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3 responses to “When two become five – The beginning of this Expat Life

  1. Gill says:

    Karen Li

    I am very humbled and thank you but it was also my fortune that I met you that fateful day and that I made a friend for life …

    G x

    Like

  2. Louise Black says:

    Totally different circumstances of course but this reminds me so much of my first year with Henry. All those lonely hours to fill and knowing almost noone else with kids. It is such a hard time and, although my family are only an hour or so away, I might as well have been in another country sometimes, I was so lost in my little isolated world. It all feels like a distant bad dream now but it is still refreshing to hear other people feel the same with their first. I can only imagine what it must be like going through it so far away. Thanks for sharing. Xx

    Like

  3. Louise B says:

    Sorry, no idea why my phone auto filled my surname as Black!

    Like

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