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 – My Singapore Expat Adventure so far

on November 9, 2013

It’s been two years since I was last on British soil. Two years! I know. That’s a very long time. During this time though we’ve had the arrival of #3 and logistically as well as financially, it has become far less convenient to make the 13, sometimes 14, hour flight back as much as we would like to.

This is the longest time I haven’t seen my Mum and Dad for and thank goodness for Skype. So I am finding it hard right now but I hope these feelings don’t cloud my account of my Singapore expat adventure.

As I’ve mentioned previously, before the start of all this I never gave much thought to living abroad. The closest I came to the term ‘expatriate’ was watching that awful television show El Dorado. There are many different definitions of ‘expatriate’ but commonly it’s a person living in another country other than the one of their upbringing, often temporary and for work reasons. Some would go on to further classify an expatriate as having ‘professional’ skills as opposed to a migrant worker who are mostly manual labourers. Why the need for such snobbery when collectively you are all living in another country temporarily for work is beyond me. Technically, I’m a ‘Dependent’ as I’m not the one doing the working. So that would make my current occupation Dependent Housewife/Homemaker. Marvellous.

Anyways, that’s not what I meant to tell you. I’ve given it some thought and the last five years has been a wonderful experience. I’m really glad we took this blind leap of faith into an unplanned adventure. I thought living in London was cosmopolitan but Singapore has me living in close quarters with people from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Holland, France, Switzerland, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philipines, Vietnam, Japan, China and a whole host more. It’s a real melting pot of nationalities here. At first I met a few people I didn’t think I would quite get along with but actually it was me not getting their tone of voice or their quirky sense of humour that threw me because it was so different to mine and they probably thought the same about me too.

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That’s the thing with living in another country. It’s so different to where you have come from and yet you arrive looking for things that are the same to what you are used to. Then feel somewhat surprised when you find things aren’t or that some things almost are but are not nearly quite the same. Isn’t that just so rude of me? I think though, that when you first arrive somewhere, you look for something familiar to cling onto to make the change less daunting. I had hoped that as we grew more familiar with our surroundings then we would embed ourselves more into the culture because otherwise what would be the point of being here? Some people are much better at adapting than others, quickly throwing themselves into local culture and creating a new social landscape for themselves. They’ve probably done this whole expat thing before and know the drill. I certainly would be better at it should it happen another time.

That’s another thing you see, how you adapt yourself. I was quite comfortable how I was in the UK before moving out here and to top it off, I was expecting #1 and the thought of my family not being around to share this precious time was quite horrendous. It made me very sad. It still does make me sad to think about what both sides are missing out on but I say to myself that the children are still young and there’s ample time for good, strong relationships to be formed with grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nearly aunts and uncles and nearly cousins. I know Husband felt guilty when I was sad and it was hard for him too but the first six months of any international move are always the hardest. We are in this together. I haven’t sacrificed anything that we had in the UK that Husband hasn’t had to give up too. My career perhaps you say? Well yes there is that and whilst I was indignant about having no official job title that I was pleased with, I’ve been given this rare opportunity of watching my children grow right in front of me during these fleeting formative years, which my Dad Mr Li never had, and I’m very thankful for that.

Singapore will always be a special place and a special time in my life because this is where #1, 2 and 3 were born and so we will always refer back to Singapore and come and visit once our time is up here. It’s Asia but then again not quite with nearly everyone speaking English as well as Mandarin. It makes me lazy in not having to try too hard in learning another language and managing very well. I live very centrally in a four bedroom apartment in a condo that has great facilities and even a corner shop and dry cleaners. As I drive into our condo, I can see that really tall building with the ship on top, we can walk to the Grand Prix track, we’re a 30 minutes drive from the airport and we can be sat on a beach in 20 minutes.

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Singapore gives off the impression of being very ‘polished’, safe and new. The sunshine helps, everything looks and feels better in the sun and you can get a fix of vitamin D nearly everyday with the temperature barely dropping below 31 degrees. It’s great that the children can play in the pool everyday if they want to, there’s always a play date to be arranged because the expat community is so big and our days are full of fun activities. If it’s not being on a play date, it’s out at a park or beach or down by the pool. I say I haven’t been back to the UK for two years but in that time I’ve been to Langkawi, Krabi and Phuket. Oh and we have home help. How can I not mention we have home help which means I barely have to do laundry, cleaning or most of the cooking on a daily basis. So even though we have three children, I don’t work and we have home help, so how hard can my life be?

It’s a thing often said amongst people who have lived expat lives that you can’t describe your existence to those who haven’t yet tried it. An expat life by all accounts is a privileged life. Especially living in Singapore with all the benefits it has to offer. I think if you said you were an expat in Siberia, your friends back home may feel an inkling of sympathy for you. As you read this, I don’t blame you if you think I’ve got it easy and that I’m living the life of Riley. I’m glad I’m reminding myself of all the good stuff about being an expat because right now after five years I’m growing weary of it. I told you some time ago that in five years I’ve waved off over 30 families who have done their time in Singapore. That’s like saying Goodbye to friends you’ve made and children you’ve watched grow from a seedling on average every two months. These people have shared so much with us from bringing new people into the world, to helping us find our feet to sharing their life experiences with us that can only humble my existence. I’ve found that part of expat living very hard. So difficult for my sentimental soul to take a battering so often. I still miss many of these families and on the flip side, these people will still be our friends in all the years to come and I am ever grateful Singapore gave me back Brilliant New Adventure friend. Whilst it was hard to see them go, it has been absolutely fabulous to have found more friends at a time of my life where I thought I had all the friends I would ever need.

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I miss the UK all the time, even though I’m told we are better off away as the UK is going down the pan. Is it really? I know there were those riots across London a couple of years ago which wasn’t pleasant and then there’s David Cameron but last year was a great year with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a brilliant 2012 Olympics, most of which I missed watching because we don’t have the right cable channel. There was a real sense of camaraderie and good will which we’ll never know about.

Did I say I haven’t seen my parents for two years? Granted that’s not quite the norm for all expats but that’s the way it has worked out for us recently and I don’t think I can fully describe how that feels. My parents are in their late 70s now and I feel immense guilt that we are this far away with three of their grandchildren and flying out this way with the humidity wouldn’t do them good either. Even when we do make a trip back it’s only for three weeks and there is never enough time to see everyone. I’ve missed weddings, I’ve missed the arrival of new people and most importantly, I’ve missed being present there in person when my friends and family have needed me. I also miss the change of seasons, the familiar language, the supermarkets, the people. I miss being part of something I recognise as real life.

On any given day, I can easily give you five things about living in Singapore that really irritates me. The heat and humidity; the cost of rent, cars and school fees; the driving; the customer service or lack of; strangers passing opinion on what #1, 2 and 3 are doing; the sound of Singlish; grown up people wearing clothing with cartoon characters or even worse, his and hers matching outfits; endless construction sites; women speaking like children in order to get their hapless boyfriends to carry their handbags; pedestrians walking on roads and cyclists riding against the flow of traffic; people picking their noses in public; my ability to find only one true Singaporean person and call them my friend. Oh look, more than ten and quite a lot more could come forthwith.

I know these aren’t real reasons, except for the cost of rent, cars and school fees, and for every irritant I can give you two reasons that makes living in Singapore great. Overall Singapore gives you the feeling of good, clean living and safety. Of course the bad stuff happens but somehow you feel less exposed to it. The range of food is amazing and you can eat good food for less than S$5 or amazing food washed down with free flow champagne. It’s a multicultural city that celebrates all religions and I’ve been educated about Ramadan and Eid, Deepavali as well as celebrating Chinese New Year and mid Autumn festival like the genuine Chinese person I was born to be. I barely spoke a word of Mandarin five years ago but since living in Singapore I understand a whole lot more and know when I’m being talked about as well. (If you’re going to call a Chinese person a banana then you really shouldn’t do it in front of them. Racism is even uglier when it comes from your own race you know.) I’ve been to countries I probably would never have gone to and I’ve met people of all nationalities who have enhanced and changed my perception of the world.

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It’s been a good life I know and to voice any complaint would make me sound spoilt and ungrateful but as with anyone, there are bound to be issues and concerns that sunshine and home help can’t eradicate. However, I should enjoy this Singapore Expat Adventure for all that it is because it’s not going to last. I’m an expat remember. Temporarily living in another country for work (or not working). Plus I am running out of tea bags. That’s one thing I can’t compromise on and that’s starting off my privileged day with a mug of shite Lipton’s tea. Well I was running out of tea bags until a call for supplies sent lots of back up including 600 tea bags from Mr Li. What exactly are you telling me people from the UK? Stay being an expat for longer?

You know, I think I just might because I’ve met someone, Mrs Cake Pops, who unwittingly is preparing me for my next adventure, the one of returning back to real life. To getting back into gainful employment, to making me see my value as an entire person again. It’s funny how things work out isn’t it. If I keep looking back to the UK, I’d be missing out on so much else right in front of me. Shamefully I haven’t even explored all that Singapore has to offer or find out what this nation is all about but before I go, I’m definitely going to.

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One response to “When two become five – My Singapore Expat Adventure so far

  1. Lorraine Cherney says:

    Karen, I know all about missing ‘home’. It is now twelve and a half years since I moved to Australia. The time has flown by but I have an awful lot to show for it. I have two homes – one in Northern Ireland and one in Brissie! How lucky am I? The deal I made with myself was that it is OK to miss home (the Northern Irish one). The ‘cost’ of living in my Australian home is that I will try to get back to Derry as often as I can. The last time I went to Derry I went on my own (no kids or husband) for 2 weeks. Sure, I felt guilty about leaving the kids but everyone coped! And, I ended up having a few great nights out with my sisters which probably wouldn’t have happened if my girls had been with me. It is OK to miss the UK and everything that that represents (people, places, teabags…) but for me, Australia is my home now. This is where I have made the two most beautiful girls in the world (sorry, I know slightly biased!) and I seriously doubt that I could ever get used to all that horrid weather again. Oh, and Adrian swears that there is no bloody way he could ever live in such a climate!!!

    Like

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