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

The time is now…

So. It’s begun. 
What’s begun?

 
Plans for the Big Move Out. What! Really?Yep. 

After almost nine years in Singapore, having waved off countless others before me, many of them really good friends, it is now my turn to bid adieu to the Little Red Dot. And it feels weird. Very weird to think that in just a few weeks, this chapter of my life will come to an end. I guess right now it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It probably won’t for a few more months. Perhaps not even for the first year.

It is both daunting and exciting. I remember in the early days of feeling so homesick and every time we made a visit back to the UK, the wrench of leaving family and friends. But we came back because Singapore is home and we had built a life here with friends who mean a great deal to us. But always, we knew that we would leave this life behind and we wouldn’t be inclined to travel from one country to another. Although it’s definitely not something that we would rule out.

Nine years. It feels like no time at all doesn’t it? It’s already nearly four years since I spoke about how quickly the first five years had gone by. Quite easily another two years could pass and we would still be procrastinating about making a change. We’ve talked about it on and off in the past but when you leave someplace without a base, it’s quite difficult imagining where that base should be and what it ought to look like. So, it’s easier just to put it off. 

Until you realise that you want something different. A need to be elsewhere for a different purpose. To create new memories that will hold different values in years to come. You want a home that will be there even if you choose to leave it for a while. A place that #1, 2 and 3 will identify with as being a big part of their childhood. Singapore will always be important to them but it’s time for new childhood experiences. Some which Husband and I experienced ourselves and some which we never did but would like for #1, 2 and 3. 

I am under no illusion moving back will be easy even though it’s to the UK and not some far flung place. In some ways it could be harder because you’re expected to fit right in. As an Expat you’ll always find the safety of other Expats but I’m sure the kindness of new neighbours and communities will help us on our way. I’m excited to think of the opportunities for travel there will be. To places I’ve missed and places I want to go. To other countries in Europe where friends we met in Singapore now live. There are boundless  new adventures that await us and old friends to see. I can feel the excitement of planning these excursions bubbling away underneath the surface.

But before that happens, there will be the small task of settling in and transition. Finding a new home, a car, the local supermarket, childcare arrangements, GPs and Dentists. Friends. Finding out ways to dry the laundry when you no longer live in the tropics. How to entertain #1, 2 and 3 on a rainy day. There is lots to learn.

At the moment I’m just thinking of what needs doing here. The packing up of a home for not just Husband and myself like when we left the UK but for #1, 2 and 3. Although they are pretty used to moving around. We’re in our fourth apartment so far and we have lived in some lovely condos with amazing facilities just down the stairs but when you’re moving every two years, we also haven’t invested too much time (or any) in thinking about interior decor. We could have colour on our walls for the first time in nine years. And carpet.
 

Nine years though. I honestly never thought I would be away this long. Though I know people who have been away for over 20 years and I can see how very easily that can be done. At the very start of this, I never gave much thought at all about what it would be like moving to a new country I’d never been to. I think I may have looked up Singapore on a map but that’s as far as it went. I recall people who had been to Singapore telling me what a great time they had, one person had even lived here as a teenager and couldn’t have rated the experience any higher. Having experienced the privileges of living this Expat life, I can see why that would be. 

Years ago the names of food and places that were mentioned to me held no meaning but that’s all changed. I will most probably enthusiastically repeat them to others who tell me they are making a trip out this way. They too may look at me blankly and nod politely.  It’s only now that I know most people get to make a recce trip before making such a big decision to build a new life elsewhere but hey, new adventures and all. 

Much the same as right now, I have no set thoughts on how it will be becoming a Repatriate. All these labels to define us. Whilst I’m moving back to the UK, it will be to a whole new town with a whole different set of variables. Plus being a whole nine years older too. Life has changed. I have changed. As you probably have too. With that comes looking at your surroundings, your next move with a different outlook. It’s not just about how will I manage this huge transition but how will #1, 2 and 3 adapt and they of course, are our biggest concern. But you know, we probably have less to worry about there. Sure, they’ll be nervous starting a new school but that happens here too at the start of the new school year. Children are much more resilient than we think and far more kind in welcoming a new face to a group. They’re excited. They are very much looking forward to SNOW! And living in a house. To a garden. To not actually sweating playing outdoors for five minutes. To watching Netflix whilst I do the ironing.

There is a whole new world to explore. Right on your doorstep. And I think I’m ready. So be ready to welcome us home with open arms and a pint of beer. It’s happening in just three weeks! I best get on with the packing, the farewells and the bucket list of things we need to do in Singapore. 


 

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The next best thing to going to see family and friends is when they can come to see you 

As the years pass by and I am still finding myself calling Singapore ‘home’, one of the great joys of being here is when family and friends can come and visit you.

 

We’ve had a steady flow of visitors over the years and it’s a privilege to be able to host them whilst we’re here. It’s not just family and close friends we’ve seen but old colleagues who randomly find themselves in Singapore for work or just on their way to someplace else.

 

 

It’s impossible to fully describe what living this Expat life is like. Is it really like a permanent holiday and how lucky are we to have hot weather, home help and sunshine most days all year round. To come and see for yourself is the only way to find out. It’s a chance for us to share what this lifestyle is all about.

 

 

But most importantly, it’s a chance for us to catch up properly at a much more relaxed pace than the galloping speed I find myself doing on every trip back to the UK. I see you but it’s so brief, yet brief is better than nothing. But when you’re out here in Singapore, we at least don’t need to try and cram everything we need to catch up on from the last few years in the next few hours. We at least have a few days to do so.

 

I love the anticipation of waiting weeks and days until the moment you need to go and collect visitors from Changi Aiport. I love an airport. It usually brings a promise of something fun and exciting. Singapore is so compact that you can get to the airport within half an hour. And the design is such that you can see your visitors come into view whilst they queue for their luggage and not have to wait until that Surprise Surprise moment when they walk through Arrivals.

 

 

Uncle Monkey will not like me saying this as he will no doubt take it as a dig, but Nana Moon has stayed at all four of the apartments we’ve lived at in Singapore. Rating each condo on the size  and shape of the pool downstairs. I’m pleased to say that our current condo rates rather high.

 

 

 

Her latest visit last week must have been her fifth or sixth stay in Singapore. Usually it’s because she’s en route to someplace else but this time it was purely to visit us. And rate our new condo pool. Quite often I hear people say that there’s not much to do in Singapore. That you can do the main sights in three or four days. Yes that’s partly true but then how much do you get to see of any other place you’ve been to on holiday. And really, isn’t it about seeing us?

 

 

Of course it’s about seeing us! But equally you are on holiday and I wouldn’t want you to go home more exhausted than before you arrived because of the demands of #1, 2 and 3! I’m fully aware of the fact that you are on holiday but as Guest of Honour, you are also a huge source of attention and entertainment for #1, 2 and 3!

 

 

 

And as #1, 2 and 3 grow older and they remember family and friends they’ve met before, there’s something very touching about how they feel when visitors come to stay. They love it. As much as Nana Moon loves Whittaker’s white chocolate with Lemon & Paeroa and bursting with popping candy. Trust me, it’s a deep love. But I also see her point having tried some and immediately having to put it on my grocery list.

 

 

You see, as much as there’s hot weather, home help and sunshine most days all year around, there isn’t the consistent presence of something as fixed as family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, we have great friends here but Singapore is a transient hub and at some point, they or we, will move on. It just depends on when. Two years are fast approaching seven.

 

 

 

So you can imagine the excitement when I told #1, 2 and 3 about the return of Nana Moon. Plans were made months in advance of the places they wanted to take her (Legoland, Malaysia), gifts were bought with a Star Wars theme attached and they were even going to take her to school as their Show and Tell exhibit A but much to their disappointment we had to go to Legoland instead.

 

 

I’m not quite sure who had the most fun at Legoland. Or who most enjoyed the stay at the Legoland Hotel. I do know that Nana Moon taking them on the rides that go round and round spared me many moments of being sick. At the moment I’m still the Mummy Who Can. #1, 2 and 3 haven’t quite sussed out that I’m rubbish at theme park rides, that I’m no natural adrenaline junkie and that I’m rather scared of the dark with mysterious noises and low flying animals around. And Nana Moon knowing that I am all these things, always steps up to lead the way.

 

 

 

 

Equally as I saw how much #1, 2 and 3 gained from Nana Moon’s company, I came to question again the value of those close relationships they are missing out on. On both sides. With lots of people. Even in the seven short months since we were last in the UK, Nana Moon could see how much each of them has grown up and changed.

 

 

 

We often talk about reverting back to type when we are with our siblings. That we adopt the roles we’ve always played when with brothers and sisters. That is so true. But what I’ve realised over the years is that we also revert back to type with those who we have known the longest. We talk about the same things, almost picking up conversations we left off a couple of years ago. There’s something quite comforting and reassuring when that happens.

 

 

 

For me, it’s the safety of knowing that whilst I have been away and you and I have done so many things that haven’t involved each other, I ultimately know that beneath it all, you and I haven’t changed that much at all. And you know, I like being able to talk about the ridiculous. Like whether I’d like to be a vampire or witch more. I’ve given this much thought. Ask Nana Moon.

 

 

Without doubt, taking this unknown step of moving out to Singapore all those years ago was the right move. It’s been good to be pushed out of your own comfort zone. Meet new people. Meet some amazing new people who have brought so much and widened the world for me. I’ve travelled to places I never would have done. Tried new experiences that would never have crossed my mind to want to try and do. Like the G5 bungy ping. It’s been calling me for six years and I can say I’m never having to do it again. Besides I definitely won’t be if my Dad, Mr Li hears about it. (What were you thinking? You’re a 40 year old mother of three and you go and do this? I despair. And so on)

 

 

 

 

In this modern era of never truly being out of touch with people anywhere in the world at all times of day which I’m truly thankful for. I daresay I couldn’t have stayed out this long without social media and various apps that help us keep relationships going and friendships alive.  Though nothing can compare to their actual presence.

 

 

Whilst the Arrivals Hall of an aiport is one of the most exciting and happiest places to be, equally the Departures Hall can be one of the most hardest places to be if you are the one not going anywhere. I must be notoriously rubbish at saying Farewell because #1 kept asking me whether I was going to cry. And he and #2 were so upset they had to be consoled with fries before going home….. But it’s good that we miss you because it means we’ll be looking forward to seeing you again.

 

 

If we can’t go and visit family and friends all around the world. The next best thing is when family and friends can come and visit us here.

 

 

And so if you can, it would be lovely to see you .

 

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The ‘do nothing’ holiday 

Even though we live in tropical Singapore with tropical temperatures nearly all year round, it’s not quite the same as being on holiday. We do have the luxury of a swimming pool downstairs but you just wouldn’t spend all weekend in your swimming togs bagsying your sun lounger with a towel before you’ve even had breakfast.  

Though I know one day when I am no longer in the tropics and I am looking out of my window onto the umpteenth consecutive grey, rainy, dull day, I will be wondering why I didn’t spend more time lounging by the pool when it was just right there.  

But even life in the tropics is governed by the social diaries of small people, chores and general weekend time has disappeared into a blackhole again. So you still need to get away every now and then to have a real holiday experience and exhibit holiday behaviour.  

What is holiday behaviour? The need to eat three course breakfasts when usually two slices of toast will sustain you, the marvelling of seeing a Boots, Tesco’s and now WH Smiths outside of the UK and popping in just to check what they sell. I know full well what they sell! The sudden and incomprehensible desire to purchase and display upon oneself a garment of a tie dyed nature. And the all important beer calls at any time. 

If you only want to travel for just two or three hours, more than likely you’re going to end up in another tropical location with tropical temperatures nearly all year round. So shall we go to Krabi, Phuket, Langkawi, Koh Samui, Penang, Laos, Phom Penh, Borneo or Lombok? Places that once sounded so far flung and exotic that are now within a long weekend break away.  

 
 
 
I would say we are fairly experienced in travelling with small people on long haul flights which lulls you into a false sense of security when it comes to short haul flights. That because the flight time is shorter then luggage will be less, good travel behaviour from #1, 2 and 3 will be disproportionate to travel time and every thing will just be a lot breezier than travelling long haul.  

It is more or less the same. 

You pack your regular Grown Ups stuff. Then you pack the stuff for small people. 

  • Clothing for each day of the holiday plus extra sets just in case. 
  • Swimming stuff plus arm bands, goggles and things to build sandcastles/scoop water with.
  • Toiletries plus mosquito repellent, sunscreen and medicines to cover a wide range of minor illnesses
  • Nappies and wet wipes.  
  • Snacks so you don’t have to locate the nearest local shop for local people as soon as you arrive.
  • Books because that’s just part of the daily bedtime routine.
  • Special sleepy toys.
  • Special drinking cups for bedtime milk – this is when you begin to regret establishing the comfort of a regular bedtime routine as advised in all the Generic Parenting Guides.
  • Then there’s the ‘Bag that they packed themselves’. #3 packed a tiara, special sleepy toy and two mini bags of potato sticks. Holiday essentials.     

And so off we went to Bali, just two hours and 45 minutes away from Singapore. With two big suitcases and five small carry ons. No pushchair though which is progress.  

We have been to Bali before about four years ago with Uncle Monkey and we stayed in a villa in Seminyak. But for ease and in want of being on a ‘do nothing’ holiday we stayed in a hotel that had great facilities and that all important ‘Kids Club’ that nearly all families with small people look for. Husband and I thought that perhaps for a couple of hours a day we may just get a glimpse of holidays of old. No. Not a glimmer. It would seem that Husband and I are much more fun than any ‘Kids Club’.  

And even in tropical Bali, there’s no guranteeing the weather. As we landed at the airport to be greeted with grey skies and rain. A lot of rain. Non stop tropical rain. But #1 and 2 did learn how to play Air Hockey that afternoon. And they would have been Ninja Warrior Champions of Air Hockey had the sun not shone brightly every day for the rest of the week.

 

  

 
 
 

There is no such thing as a ‘do nothing’ holiday when you are the parents of small people. Fact. And just because you are in a place of clear blue skies, sandy beaches and sparkling seas, small people have no regard for the inner peace and sense of relaxation this scene is meant to bring upon you. Whatever happens at home will happen on holiday. Fact. But because we are on holiday, we always fail to remember this. Fact. And feel mildly flummoxed when the tantrums, wails and whines make an appearance when we are on holiday.  

WE ARE ON HOLIDAY! 

But because we are on holiday, it is permitted that Holiday Beer can make an appearance at any time of day. Which rather helps take the edge away. When you have a beer in your hand, it’s ok if the kids appear to be alternating between pancakes, chips and at best spaghetti bolognaise for every meal. It’s ok that they appear to be running circles around the restaurant rather than sitting nicely at the table. It’s ok if they are throwing a full body tantrum. It’s all ok with a bottle of Holiday Beer in your hand. If only they would just go to Kids Club.

 
 
 
And as I was saying there’s no such thing as a ‘do nothing’ holiday with small people. Even lounging by the pool requires at least 30 minutes of prep time that includes changing into swimming togs times three, application of sunscreen times three, application of mosquito repellant times three, herding from hotel room to pool times three, repetitive requests to go and do toilet evacuations times three because undoubtedly as soon as you get to the pool one of the three will announce an unexpected and urgent need to do an emergency evacution.  When you are ensconced poolside, one of you is invariably on permanent life guard duty or re-enacting scenes from Three Billy Goats Gruff as Troll Under Bridge. If only they would just go to Kids Club. 

As much as we say that we would love to have a ‘do nothing’ holiday, it also feels like such a waste to have travelled so far and not see beyond the hotel grounds. Especially if the kids are not going to make any use of Kids Club. Sometimes you don’t know really know what you’re going to get until your cab pulls up right in front of your hotel and I’ve had the chance to stay in some quite amazing hotels. But hotels are hotels.  

Each time we go away, Husband and I always say the next time will be easier when #1, 2 and 3 are that little bit older. And each time it is. We no longer have to lug a pushchair, baby carrier, small pouches of mushed up food, baby bottles, milk formula, large plastic tub for sterilising bottles, sterilising tablets, bibs and blankets with us. Neither do we need to find places to eat that have highchairs on the premises. Nor are we the first to eat right on the dot of opening time to get small people back to the room for bed. Most of the time when we are           finishing up, people are just about to head for dinner after enjoying Happy Hour sundowners in the bar beforehand.  

But it appears we are not quite there. And even with packing extra sets of clothing, it’s not much use when you don’t pack them in the Going Out With Small People bag. Inevitably one of the three will expel their breakfast all over themselves and you in such situations. With no spare clothes to change into. In many situations this wouldn’t normally end in a huge fashion disaster but choice of a new wardrobe can be rather limited in the Gift Shop of Bali Bird Park. #3 spent the rest of the day wearing a t shirt that could have doubled as a dress and shorts that reached above her ankles and were so wide they looked like cullottes. Though I suspect Husband secretly rather likes his fetching orange shorts.

 

 
 

But despite the expulsion of breakfasts, the cries of boredom in the car and the frantic seeking of toilet facilities down some remote jungle lane, it is so worth seeing a small glimpse of somewhere else. 

 I always assumed Bali was mostly a Muslim culture but it’s not, it’s Hindu. With amazing temples of all sizes and importance located often within metres of each other. It’s also an island rich with craftsmen creating beautiful handicrafts out of wood, upcycling old canoes into shelves, sewing pieces of leather into bags, mosaic pottery and art. There may be hundreds of shops selling the same wares lining the roads of Ubud but it’s heartening to see the actual work in progress in very rustic workshops.  

And it’s very green. Which makes an amazing contrast to the urban living in Singapore. Sometimes you think some buildings are not quite finished, there’s exposed piping and rubble and there appears to be no landscaping around the buildings. It takes a couple of days to get used to seeing this and realising that actually this is it finished. For now at least until perhaps another sum of money has been saved up to build the next part. A true work in progress. Chickens roam everywhere scratching amongst the dirt and dogs wander along the side of the roads. I saw a man stroking a chicken’s head like you would with a cat. I noticed the rubbish collected in the rivers and streams around small clusters of housing and further along a woman washing herself amongst it.   

Which coffee came from beans pood out from a civet cat?

 
I don’t know what the Road Safety Regulations are and they probably don’t mean much when you see two adults travelling on a motorbike together with three children. It’s no wonder they don’t quite get the hooha when we’re trying to find the middle seat belt in a car and won’t set off until we do. Whilst it’s busy on the roads, you don’t get that harrassed stuck in traffic feeling. The traffic flows slowly and any beeping of horns is to let motorcyclists and dogs know we’re overtaking you which is the opposite to my usual beeping of horn to let you know you’re driving like an idiot.  

On our last trip to Bali we saw the volcanic sand beaches favoured by surfers and the popular shopping areas of Seminyak on the south west coast of Bali. It’s not a big island and just 20 or 30 kilometres away the scenery changes completely. I love open space and it can be rare to find in Singapore. Even if you’re alongside another 50 or 60 tourists, there’s still something quite spectacular standing on the clifftop watching the sunset in the distance by the temple of Uluwatu. Whilst cursing the couple in their wedding finery standing precariously on the crumbling cliff edge trying to capture that perfect wedding shot and marring the horizon. Haven’t they heard of photoshop? If only the resident monkeys ran off with the camera at the end.  

Speaking of monkeys, for future reference best not to wear flip slops, hats or anything that can’t be strapped down to your person when travelling amongst monkeys. Real monkeys and not the cheeky monkeys that reside with you daily. And as terrifying as being nearer to the ground and to monkeys as it may seem, it is best to advise small people that they are far better off walking by themselves than being carried. As the monkeys are more likely going to try and grab flip flop from your offending foot whilst it’s flapping loose in the air than whilst you are using it which #2 knows all about. One ran off with someone’s hat and Husband said as I put my bag down to help another couple take a photo, one monkey was keenly eyeing up the contents. They were bold and feral and not dissimilar in behaviour to #1, 2 and 3 with their constant foraging for food and the way they drank straight out of the bottle and just chucked it behind them when they were done.      

 
 
 

So, our taking some time off to ‘do nothing’ holiday in Bali to lounge by the pool drinking Holiday Beer whilst #1, 2 and 3 are in Kids Club didn’t quite happen. In fact #1, 2 and 3 probably ended up more exhausted than normal with being so active in the pool and doing so much walking, eating late and going to bed later than usual. Husband and I on the other hand, had never been to bed so early for quite some years, which is what happens when all five of you have to cohabit a family room.  

 It was probably quite a relief for #1, 2 and 3 to get home and be amongst their stuff in their own bedrooms to finally do nothing. 

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So here we stay……..for now

I am just as surprised as you are that I will still be in Singapore for the foreseeable future.

 

I know! I remember it clearly myself just a few months ago when we were back in the UK having discussions that we may be moving back to the UK some time this year.  But we’re not.  Actually I recall thinking we’d be moving back last Autumn too.

 

Anyhow, we have moved and just a local move has been chaotic enough let alone thinking about an international move.

 

This has been our fourth move in six years.  When Husband and I moved from the UK to Singapore it was courtesy of his work which meant professional packers came swooping in and taking care of everything.  Back then it really was quite simple with just packing up our small two bedroom flat with hardly any furniture.  How those packers must have rejoiced at landing that particular job.  Back then we were inexperienced relocatees even though throughout our Student and formative gainful employment years we were still in rental accommodation and moving once a year.

 

The difference between now and way back then is the amount of stuff we (or as Husband will be quick to correct – I)  have accumulated.  You may be congratulating yourself on how ruthless and systematic you are at purging excess belongings that no longer serve a purpose, will never be used again no matter how useful the person on QVC persuaded you it would be or that just, sadly, will never fit you again no matter how achingly ‘vintage’ they may now be.  Nothing illustrates how lightly we once lived than the one small carload of all our worldly possessions we once trundled off to University with to live our whole lives by.

 

Ok, so perhaps we didn’t have to pack up beds and sofas, washing machines and microwaves, sideboards and cabinets too but the contents of one storage cupboard in our previous apartment that never saw the light of day in two years would easily fill two empty people carriers.  And as I was filling up boxes with said items, I questioned why on earth was I even bothering taking it with me. It just didn’t make sense.

 

So how has this happened??

 

Well I think by nature I am a hoarder.  Not quite so bad as the people they make documentaries about whose homes are jammed packed full of, quite literally, rubbish that is treated with reverence.  There was an episode of ‘Life of Grime’ that featured a gentleman who owned a whole house in Crouch End that I used to pass on my way to work.  Developers preyed like vultures for the property which was in a prime location and with huge potential.  The garden looked more like a scrapyard and you could barely open the front door wide enough to squeeze yourself in sideways.  How could anyone live like that? Well, it transpired that he was a refugee displaced from Poland in World War 2 and to have had nothing under such circumstances affected his attachment to possessions the rest of his life.  There’s always a reason.

 

I have no reason for my hoarding tendencies than the fact that I am an optimist in believing stuff will once again be useful, be used and will fit.  Although I am much better at accepting that stuff will no longer fit.  And even if they did fit, I am much better at accepting that particular look is no longer appropriate for my current lifestyle (or age).

 

This recent move happened quite suddenly.  Initially we thought we would just renew our lease but with rental prices falling sharply and our landlord failing to grasp this notion, we decided to move somewhere slightly cheaper and bigger that came up.  And without a six month baby in tow hindering all ability to reason and be proactive, I had a clearer picture of just how much we have that was out of sight, out of mind.  Again Husband will tell you this concept has been known to him for some time.  What has really unsettled me this recent move is the volume of our belongings that does not help with our  daily lives.  It became painfully apparent as I emptied cupboards and drawers into 110 boxes.  Some things I totally forgot I even had and had even bought a new replacement of.    

 

Moving is a great time for purging excess stuff I know that.  Some of you are very good at it, I know that too.  And I am aspiring to be like that and will at some point get around to it.  As I emptied out cupboards and drawers into 110 boxes, I was drawing up a mental itinerary of all our stuff. There’s the box of cables that we have long forgotten what gadgets they belonged to and yet have kept ‘just in case’ we need it.  We haven’t needed it for two years, surely it’s safe to say we probably no longer have the gadget the cable belonged to.  I was also amazed at the amount of socks we have in these tropical climes.  To be fair to Husband he has to wear socks everyday to work so those are mitigating circumstances.  But he has 60 pairs of socks.  Outside of work socks, there are socks for trainers, socks for cycling, socks for other sports, socks for hiking, odd socks and holey socks.  Frolicking socks breed like underpants in the dark corners of your underwear drawer.  It’s the only explanation.  Same goes for books.  Books are my greatest joy and greatest weakness.  I will always take in stray books with the promise that I will read it some day.  I have a book shelf full of books I’ve mostly read and another cupboard full of books I haven’t read and if you were to pile them up high, you would find it would be twice my height and more.  Books are wonderful.

 

After packing up the big stuff, the practical stuff and the used daily stuff, there’s the other stuff that just exists. Everyone has this stuff.  Buttons, small change, Allen keys in multiple sizes, safety pins, adapters, receipts, memory cards, Sim cards and so on that lives in a top drawer.  It all got swept into a carrier and moved into another new top drawer.  Then there’s the stuff that comes with small people.  Cots, clothes, blankets, nappies and related paraphenalia, bottles, snack boxes in various sizes, bedding and towels.  Then there’s the toys.  Toys suitable for small people from age 0 to now.  Soft toys are my nemesis.  They are everywhere and they are bulky.  And they cannot be parted with for sentimental reasons because that soft toy was sent by that special person. And just when you think your child has no emotional attachment to said soft toy, once you deploy the services of that soft toy elsewhere it will suddenly become the only soft toy to comfort your child to sleep.

 

Then there’s the stuff that I can’t part with because as you know by now, I am sentimental to the core.  The tiny sleepsuit #1, 2 and 3 all came home from hospital in.  The boxes with loose photos in that will never see the inside of an album.  The artwork of not just #1, 2 and 3 but nearly niece Strawberry Mousse going back a decade.  The bags and shoes that will always be in fashion to me even if they are not in the wider sense.  The woollen items knitted by the Mother In Law that are like new.  The memorabilia collated from trips we’ve made since moving out to Singapore that will be used to decorate our Forever Home once we really settle somewhere.

 

So you move from one apartment to another apartment that is bigger than your last one.  Although our previous apartment looked pretty big again when it was devoid of all our stuff in it. It would seem obvious that the new apartment should accommodate all your stuff quite comfortably.  This is not the case and never will be.  You moulded your old place to fit in all your stuff.  You put all the big obvious stuff in place and fill it with the all the big obvious stuff.  Then fill in the gaps with all the other stuff that exists.  And even though you existed quite happily on all the stuff you have in your previous home, when you move, there will inevitably be a post moving in trip to Ikea involved even though you already have too much stuff.

 

When you move, the initial frustration of trying to find new homes for all your stuff makes you even more determined to filter out what you don’t need.  Every time we move, there’s always that period of boxes just being there for weeks, sometimes months, because you don’t know where the gaps are to fill in with the stuff that just exists.  Plus, I kid myself that I’m going to sort it out properly and purge what we really don’t need.  But after while, I am always just tempted to get another cabinet but Husband will tell you that is not the solution and so in a bid to just rid ourselves of the unhomely looking, cumbersome boxes, I just end up filling in the gaps with the stuff that just exists with the promise that I will one day very soon get around to properly filtering it all out. I really will.

 

I’ll let you know in two years time how that plan worked out.

 

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So that’s how you cook a turkey!

So the 3kg turkey, which incidentally weighed the same as #1, 2 and 3 at birth, wasn’t that difficult to cook after all! It was a bit of a disappointment really after hearing all these years about how people have to get up in the middle of the night to start cooking the turkey but apparently Mrs Cake Pops says that’s only if the turkey is double the size of the one we had. No wonder Christmas dinner is a stressful event if you’re cooking for that many people because that’s a lot of turkey going on there. Plus all the trimmings. You need another kitchen really.

Husband says our turkey was rather like a large chicken, except with huge wings, but I thought I better make more of an effort with it than just bunging it into the oven. Out of the twenty odd Christmas food magazines I’ve accumulated over the years illustrating the various ways you can cook Christmas dinner, I opted for the rub the turkey all over with butter and then decorate with rashers of streaky bacon option as advised by the Butcher. It was a bit weird rubbing the butter all over the turkey, I’m not sure I’d do that too often.

The real challenge though was how do you cook all the other things as well? Like the potatoes and parsnips that need roasting, the sausage meat stuffing and had there been room in the oven, the Yorkshire puddings which categorically should not be reserved solely for roast beef. Husband and Sister in Law like a spare Yorkshire pudding with golden syrup. Try it. Husband also likes a slice of Christmas cake with cheddar cheese on it. Try it too. These all require significantly higher temperatures than the 170 degrees the turkey needs to cook at. So suffice to say that Christmas lunch almost became Christmas afternoon tea by the time that everything was ready.

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Not that #1, 2 and 3 were concerned as they barely touched a morsel. So wrapped up were they in the visit of Father Christmas that had happened earlier that day.

Barely had I finished writing my last post and climbed into bed when a commotion erupted as #1 and 2 came charging into our room informing us very excitedly that Father Christmas HAD ALREADY BEEN!

Erm, that wasn’t the plan we had agreed on. #1 and 2 you were meant to sleep in until 7.30am.

NOT BE UP AT 3AM!

Then not only be up at 3am but #2 decides now is a good time to start freaking out at the fact she’s scared of Father Christmas. After he’s delivered the presents. She then insists that one of us has to sleep in their room in case he comes back. ‘But he’s not coming back #2’. ‘How do you know Mummy?’.

Quite so. How do I know?

#1 was beyond excited and kept getting out of bed several times before it was even dawn and then having to wait another hour before #2 and 3 were up. The anticipation was almost painful for him but he did really well.

And then everyone was up. Marvelling at the mess the reindeers had made on the balcony after eating the carrots and how Father Christmas had eaten all the snacks and drunk the whiskey and milk.

Now in each family, we all have our traditions and in ours the gift from Father Christmas can be opened after we’ve had breakfast. It worked well in previous years but as #1 and 2 join forces together and show no regard for patience it wasn’t really happening as before.

#2: ‘When can I open my Snow White dress from Santa, Mummy?’
Me: ‘How do you know that’s your gift?’
#2: ‘Because I asked him for it and he’s been now’

I can’t really argue with that can I. Where’s the surprise and amazing coincidence that Father Christmas delivers what you ask him for so long as you’ve been (mostly) good all year?

To #2 it was just fact. But joyful all the same as they excitedly opened their special present and it’s exactly what they’ve been coveting for some months.

I know it’s hard to tear yourself away from something you’ve been waiting for but I like a Christmas Day walk. Even if it’s just for an hour and we definitely had an hour to spare whilst the turkey cooked. #1 was a bit disgruntled at having to leave his new toys but in the end I think he enjoyed it. Along the way we passed by a temple that offers people who need it, a hot meal everyday of the year funded by the generosity of the public. It was a timely reminder.

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In the absence of family in Singapore, we do have good friends, great friends in fact, to spend a time of year usually reserved for close family. We ended Christmas Day with friends who opened their home to welcome so many of us who are a long way from Parents and Grandparents and plied us with lots of fizzy alcoholic pop.

Then on Boxing Day, which is fast becoming one of my favourite days too, we celebrated with a Boxing Day ham fest with Mrs Cake Pops and her family. Boxing Day ham is by far a much more relaxed affair. Just do the ham accompanied with left over cranberry and bread sauce, freshly sliced bread and copious amounts of cheese. What more could you ask for.

So the turkey is all done without a turkey curry to be had but a mashed potato topped turkey pie with shortcrust pastry grated on it before baking to a golden crunch. Absolute genius idea Mrs Imperturbable!

Christmas Day is over for this year and I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful one.

It’s time to prepare for the New Year and everything that it brings.

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What the Complete Residents’ Guide to Singapore didn’t say

I have the book but I didn’t quite get to the Orientation presentation on The Complete Residents’ Guide to Singapore.

It’s like your regular Lonely Planet Guide covering culture, shopping and places to eat but with additional information on ‘how to set up home’, places you could live, healthcare providers and schools for your children. I think I did read it or some of it (it’s really thick with very small sized font) but like your regular Lonely Planet Guide, you can’t really visualise the country you’re going to until you’re there and you become familiar with your surroundings.

I’m sure if I were to look at the Guide now, six years later, I may find it more useful and even find new things to do and places to go.

In fact, I have just had a quick flick through it and it makes for much better reading now that most of it makes sense. I can picture geographically where all these places are and what shopping centres are good for what and which bars and restaurants are worth a look at. The amount of information in these guides that are just for padding is quite ridiculous and can cause much anxiety and confusion.

Luckily the evolvement of social media provides a much more satisfying insight into the world of an Expat Resident living in Singapore. My newsfeed on Facebook gets clogged up with all manner of questions and advice people need or think they need.

But the one thing that I could have done with some forewarning on and advice on how to survive it is this.

How to prepare yourself when people you really like and children you held as a newborn baby move on from the transient hub of Singapore.

I’ve mentioned it before a couple of times because it’s the one area that really hits me. Every time it happens.

I like you, otherwise I wouldn’t spend time with you and because I like you, I spend a lot of time with you. Then you have to leave.

Or one day I will leave.

And I miss you. I miss you a lot. And your children. And my children miss your children. Not so much you. But you understand.

Then the things we do together, I don’t do anymore. There are certain parts of Singapore I haven’t been to in years because people who used to live there don’t live there anymore and I have no reason to venture that way. It’s quite weird.

Am I the only Expat who feels this way? I don’t think so but as much as I would like my circle of friends to remain the same, there’s been something incredibly enriching about living this Expat life.

I can barely imagine a life where I had never met these people at all. So many different nationalities and outlooks on life. Some amazing people and really lovely, kind, loyal friends who still remain somewhere in my life. Some of course, were not like that and it’s quite a relief.

I’ve had quite a lot of Goodbyes this year.

The latest one was last week. I thought I’d be ok with it because they’ve headed back to the UK and I’m pretty sure I’ll see her and the kids again. She’ll be rubbish at general updating and she leaves no trail on Facebook, which is a very helpful resource in keeping in touch with all these people. But I know she’ll be booking babysitters as soon as there’s a word of catching up with a glass of wine. Or, she’ll create a campsite in her new home so we can bundle all the children together and leave them to it.

No exit from Singapore has been as painful for me as when Brilliant New Adventure left last year. I still wish she was here all the time but those who are really true friends never let you go. Out of all the hundreds of people I’ve met here in six years, I’ve had some really wonderful times with so many of them.

We started off tentatively together, you know on your best behaviour and all. Getting confused and misreading cultural differences in our approach to things. I’m being all British and you’re being not British and I’m thinking I don’t really get you and am I ever going to get anyone ever again?

Then suddenly, through the fog of so many new things happening at once. New country, new employment status, new baby, new sleep patterns. I get you. I really do. Then I start becoming more myself, the non Expat version who isn’t (though really ought to be) on their best behaviour all the time.

I used to go out you know. I even would have a drink. I’d even have more than two or three too. How outrageous of me. Oh you did too? Really? Yes. I did. In a time before I met you with an 8 month gestation sized bump that replenished a couple more times afterwards.

I’ve obviously met all the friends I have made in Singapore through having had #1, 2 and 3. I couldn’t have asked for better support when we were new parents or when the chaos of multiple children hit us hard in the solar plexus. Or when the loneliness of missing family and distance from family during their time of need made us question what were we doing.

An Expat Circle provides you with a network of support when you have none to hand. We are all experienced at being the New Kid at School. That awkwardness of wondering whether you’ll ever fit in, all these other people seem to know what they’re doing and I am clueless. So were they once. So was I. And so that’s why you extend that hand of friendship. Many of us have the time of course but also will remember just how it does feel to be that new person. Even when we are confident, experienced Grown Ups.

So, as I was saying, I said Farewell for now to one friend I’ve known for six years. Nearly all the time we’ve been in Singapore. I know I’ll see her again but as we said Goodbye, it suddenly hit me that I won’t be seeing her next week. That the boys will have grown taller and more grown up the next time I do. That they will not hang out together with #1, 2 and 3 doing what they’ve been doing for six years. That there will be no more red wine and lethal cocktail nights out for some while.

Ah, that realisation was shit all over again. But one thing I do know now and that is we will remain in touch. Perhaps not all the time, but enough to keep things going. And having met up with one such lovely friend in the UK when I was back whom I met out here and it feeling like we just finished a conversation yesterday.

So perhaps no one needs to tell you that part about Expat living. Far better you figure it out yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t want to risk getting to know anyone at all and that would be a huge shame.

For me at least.

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Whilst I should have been sleeping

On the flight back from the UK, whilst everyone was sleeping, this was the view from the window. It was pretty spectacular don’t you agree? I asked the air steward if he knew where we were flying over at that moment and he reckoned it could have been Afghanistan.

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I spent a lot of last week awake whilst everyone was sleeping. I know it only lasted a week but I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the effect that jet lag had on #1, 2 and 3. For this time, it hasn’t been just about getting myself back to functioning like a relatively normal human being.

Jet lag is the price you have to pay to get to the land of eternal sunshine. Though it’s been raining heavily nearly every afternoon we’ve been back which would really piss you off if you had travelled all this way only to be rewarded with jet lag and rain.

From what I remember of three years ago, there was only #1 who was up between the hours of 11.30pm and 3am for about four nights. He wasn’t quite three at the time and #2 was only 15 months and so she settled straightaway.

After accidentally sleeping in until 1pm last Tuesday, the day after we got back, we had a tag team of #3 up at 11pm followed by #2 at 2am and then #1 at 4am which resulted in me cooking noodles and making toast at 4.15am. They finally fell asleep at 6.45am. I contemplated whether it was worth going to sleep at all but then decided it would be best for the wider community that I had some form of sleep. Sending #1 and 2 to school has been the best remedy for jet lag, they come back exhausted and thankfully sleep. #3 has been the biggest pickle, as she already gets in a good few hours before I feel it’s a reasonable time for me to go to bed and then she’s up for a few hours and so it went on.

I’ve had a few people ask me whether it’s been difficult to settle back into Singapore after such a long time away and of course, you all could tell how much I loved being back in the UK. There were times when we were in the UK, that I would think of Singapore and find it all quite surreal. I mean to be honest, this whole expat existence is quite surreal.

But the thing is, whilst I have a close affinity to the UK, #1, 2 and 3 do not. Singapore is where they were all born and is where their home is. It’s where they have a familiar routine and where they can find the friends they know best. So for that reason, I would never be so rude as to call the UK ‘home’ in their presence even if I feel so comfortable with the place when I’m back. It would just end up confusing them. Home is where we all live together as a family.

I think I needed a break from Singapore in order to appreciate it again. Much the same I appreciate the UK after six years away. I was starting to feel claustrophobic on this small island country and feeling like we were doing the same activities week in, week out. I imagine it’s a feeling you can get the world over. It is a small place and we have done quite a number of things already (some I would never go to again like Hay’s Goat Farm and FarmArt) but as I discovered at the weekend, there is also a lot more places we have yet to explore and now that #1, 2 and 3 are older I think we can venture out and do a lot more.

It’s a beautiful city state and it’s growing all the time. Where I live now is a 10 minute run down to the river that takes in the amazing skyline of that ‘boat on three buildings’. In the UK I had no qualms with driving hours to get somewhere so it should be nothing to drive 35 minutes north to get to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve where you can see natural mangroves and crocodiles at dusk.

So whilst I don’t know when we may choose to leave Singapore, I think it’s time to start living like it could be any time soon and not take it for granted as to leave without really getting to see many of Singapore’s hidden gems would be a real shame indeed. I’ve heard about this natural hot spring somewhere up north. It looks like some someone’s back yard with a makeshift water pump and you have to bring your own bucket to fill up with the natural spring water to dunk your feet in! A far cry from the volcanic natural hot spring Husband and I went to in St Lucia but it looks funny and I think we should try it.

Then again, some of the old favourites are still a sight to behold. #2 is desperate to see if she’s tall enough for the boat ride at the Singapore River Safari which she sees is her right of passage to being four years old. It’s also a privilege to be able to pop out for dinner and drinks with friends and have views like this. Shame it has to be for a leaving do for someone I’ve know nearly all the time I’ve been in Singpore.

Such is the transient nature of where we live and that is what I need to remember.

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Hello UK – it’s time you and I got reacquainted

Today in Singapore the sun is shining and the temperature will range between 26 and 32 degrees with 70% humidity levels.

This is nothing new. It’s barely worth asking me what’s the weather like because with all probability it’s going to be like this.

I’m not showing off. I see the forecast says it’s also sunny in London and Newcastle.

Rest assured I will tell you of the occasions the weather permits the wearing of long trousers. Such rarity elicits great excitement.

However as you are all interesting and stimulating people, I daresay our conversations would never need to hit the doldrums of asking what the weather is doing.

So, after nearly three long years, I’m finally coming back to the UK! Long trousers and long sleeves with a jumper, coat, scarf and boots. Even when I’m in Newcastle. Especially when I’m in Newcastle. It has to be snowing by now.

I’ve started packing already. I have a winter wardrobe circa seven years ago. I’m not outdated, I’m just really into vintage. However to make myself more current I went to buy two new long sleeved tops that don’t look much different to the ones of seven years ago.

I could have bought this but figured I might lose one of the children in it. #3 especially.

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I’m exuding an air of palpable excitement. Forget the 13 hour night flight with #1, 2 and 3. It’ll be a breeze I’m sure. Just get through the first six hours without crying and all will be well.

And this time I’m back for six weeks and three days. The longest time ever! I just can’t wait.

The first weekend is Big D’s wedding at the former residence of King Henry VIII. Nana Moon and I are going together and I’ll be seeing Ms Beefy, my cousin and her husband plus a few others all at the same time. Slightly concerned the jetlag will send me to sleep in a darkened corner of the dance floor by 8pm. Or even more concerning, into a state of delirium.

Then I’m off to Stockholm for a weekend sans #1, 2 and 3, to help Nana Moon Embrace 40 with £20 pints of beer. Who would have thought there are places more expensive than Singapore for beer. This is one weekend I am so glad I’m back for as not only am I sans #1, 2 and 3 but I get to spend it with my three best friends for the first time in forever. However I haven’t actually told my Dad, Mr Li I’m doing this and after the encounter I told you about in my last post, I’m not sure I will. But equally perhaps this is the best way to break the news to him? I’m sure someone will tell him on my behalf.

Plus there are new small people to meet. I’m looking forward to seeing them in person having seen so many photographs on Facebook and the many status updates of how they are always getting one better over their parents. But there is one young lady in particular, I’m looking forward to meeting most of all. The news of whose arrival still fills me with huge emotion when I think about it.

And not forgetting my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum and all my nearly nieces and nephews. I’ve missed them all so much and I’ve missed out on so much too. When I left the UK they were mostly young adults with student discount cards and now they know why I was always making use of their NUS cards.

The thing I’ve learnt you have to do with being an Expat is that you can’t always look back at what you left behind. Otherwise you’ll never be fully present in the place where you are. So to that extent you do have to become slightly detached from where you come from. Is it still Home? Yes it was and no it isn’t.

After exactly six years away today, nearly three of which I’ve not returned during, I have lost some connection with what I know of the UK. I’ve grown accustomed to changes that made me homesick and I’ve nearly stopped comparing what is better in the UK than in Singapore.

But I’m ready to get reacquainted all over again.

What does it feel like to have a proper pint of draught Guinness instead of one out of a can that’s then poured into a glass and placed on some whizzy gadget that does something which ought to make it taste like a draught one. I’m sure there’s a special name for it.

How different is a glass of red wine going to be in crisp cold weather. Pub with roaring fire thrown in would be an added bonus.

How many different varieties of crisps will I find on the shelves of Sainsbury’s? I’ve already worked out that I can’t buy more than eight different multipack varieties because of my Dad, Mr Li’s rule of maximum one packet a day. Last time I slightly miscalculated and ended up leaving 42 bags with Uncle Monkey. And knowing his lack of concern for Best Before Dates, I bet he still has half of them and more than likely will think nothing of offering them to #1, 2 and 3.

I have a really long list of food items I need to get through and so planning my trip around this needs to be done meticulously. I bet you didn’t even know certain food combinations don’t exist in all parts of the UK. This was a huge shock. I almost couldn’t move to London because they had never heard of chips and gravy in the same carton.

If you can have a bag of chips. And you can have a pot of gravy. Doesn’t it make sense that you equally should be able to have chips and gravy together? It’s very simple. No you can’t. I just don’t get it. Goodness knows what they would make of adding some fried rice into the mix as well. Although Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs thinks this is food abomination. Double carbs are the work of the devil. So does Mrs Cake Pops, I can already see the look of disgust and retching as she reads this.

Elbear the Wise once said that the sign of true friendship is knowing how someone likes their tea. If you’ve forgotten, it’s regular tea brewed for a few minutes with just enough milk to make it look like caramel and filled to one centimetre below the top of the mug. Half filled mugs will be sent back.

Equally a sign of true friendship is allowing the ketchup to reside right beside the salt and pepper next to the Sunday Roast. I just don’t get why this upsets you so? Is it because it merges with the gravy on the plate?

Without sounding as if I have a disregard for the rising numbers in the obese and diabetic, I can’t wait for a real proper chocolate eclair. M&S are ok but one is never enough and two is just gluttony. What is ideal are the Sainsbury’s Jumbo Eclairs. Are you listening Nana Moon? Of course you can get eclairs here and when I first chanced upon one, I was so excited and then so bitterly let down that I almost threw it back and proceed to lecture on what makes an authentic eclair and faux fresh cream is not one of the components and that I should know having won the taste and presentation categories of a homemade chocolate eclair challenge against Mr No Beans, whose real strength lies in the tarte tartin.

But of course this is not about all I can eat. And I really must watch that as I can just fit into the dress I would like to wear to a special family wedding six weeks later but if I don’t manage to keep all in check then fear not, like my suitcase, I have an expandable back up dress.

Last Friday as I anxiously waited for the Scottish referendum results to come in, I could feel the nerves building up. I personally wanted a No outcome so I’m pleased with the result but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel for those who passionately wanted it to be a Yes. Had it been a Yes, it would have made coming back very weird and even more disconnecting for me. Change happens, I get it. The second from last time I was back, David Cameron became Prime Minister. But to lose a whole country? Well that’s just quite careless.

I honestly never thought I’d still be an Expat right now. I thought we’d have moved back some time this year. But I think it’s better this way to get reacquainted again so that I know what it is we’ll be coming back to. There’s a General Election next year and it’s time to listen to what the Parties are saying. Six years away plus #1, 2 and 3 in tow is a big lifestyle change to adapt to. I don’t even know how you would get them some education so it’s about time to find out.

But leaving all that aside, I am more than ready to see you again. And I quite simply, just can’t wait!

Plus, Mrs Cake Pops bought me my very own onesie for this trip. Though I highly suspect she wears hers for casual Sunday wear. I haven’t tried it on yet but all I can see is a Tomliboo and I’ll be bringing it to Stockholm.

I thought six weeks and three days was a long time but it definitely won’t be enough time for me to see all of you who I really want to see but I’m going to give it a good go.

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The many Farewells of an Expat Life

If there’s one thing I’ve been unprepared for with living this Expat Life, it’s all the Farewells that come with it.

Last November, I mentioned that in five years we’ve said Goodbye to over 30 families, it’s now ratcheted to nearer 40. That’s on average a leaving do every two months. Singapore is a very transient hub, it’s to be expected I know.

There are wonderful experiences to be had from living abroad. There are many interesting people to meet. There are fabulous friends to keep even. But just when you’re getting really comfortable with someone, it’s time for them to go to pastures new. I guess we’re not all on the same time line. Some have already served their time just as we arrived and some were never planning to stay that long anyway.

Neither were we. But suddenly, a six year anniversary is creeping up.

I thought the Goodbyes I said to my family and my closest friends way back in September 2008 was the most difficult. Leaving behind a life I knew well at a time when I was on the cusp of beginning a new unknown one as a parent. It’s funny how you don’t really give much thought to moving away from home when you’re truly young. Some twenty years ago now when I moved away to Manchester was the most exciting new experience and I couldn’t wait for it to happen. Same with moving to London. But this move to Singapore was different, to completely extract yourself from a life familiar at a time when you’re feeling quite comfortable and not quite so into new adventures but preferring the blanket of stability.

It was hard and it still is, that ache in your heart on every trip back to see everyone. How much you miss them and every time you notice how everyone has changed a bit; how children have grown up a lot that you’ve missed out on but back to an Expat life you must go, for now.

I thought leaving behind what I had was the most difficult part. I was wrong though. I certainly wasn’t expecting how hard it would be to say the Goodbyes to the people I have met in Singapore and some I’ve known for just a couple of years. What is that all about?

I liken my first year or so as an Expat Fresher where you wonder whether you’re going to meet any new people at all and if so where and how. In my situation with the absence of gainful employment but being with child, it was surprisingly easy to start building a network of people after the first few months of barely meeting anyone at all to talk to. Having children opens many a social door.

So you join this New Mother and Baby Group, that coffee morning, another New Mum’s Walk in the Sweaty Park Group. You smile and engage in conversation with any person you come across and maybes you meet up for coffee, a play group, a Walk in the Sweaty Park to see how it all goes.

I would consider myself a sociable person. In gainful employment, a lot of what I do is about engaging with people. I don’t find it particularly difficult to talk to new people. But at the age of 34, I would say that my social networks were more or less defined. I knew what kind of people I enjoyed spending my free time with and more importantly they knew me.

So here I was, about to start again. But unlike starting University where a lot of people reinvent themselves, I was quite happy the way I was. However, what I wasn’t expecting is how utterly life changing that life changing event called having children really is. Because it does change some part of you, even if you think only temporarily. So now I was meeting people under the guise of New Parent and the focus is so different. It’s not about whether I would like to sit with you in a pub for several pints anymore but whether you and I are sharing the same thoughts about this Parenting malarky with our children being of same age. I would say pretty much all my friendships have been built on these grounds bar one or two.

And because of this start, that’s why losing some of these friendships is so difficult. These women who in the absence of parents, best friends, local health visitors became the support network you really can’t do without when life and emotions turn you upside down, they pick you up and put you right again. I’ve mentioned before just how lucky I was to meet Mrs BA who extended warmth and friendship without needing to. Who opened up networks that I’m still attached to and whose kindness and generosity reminds me that we all can make someone feel better whilst they find their feet.

Not all meetings have ended as well of course. Some don’t get beyond that first play date, some can peter out after several months or some just decide that you really have nothing in common but the age of your children. One even went to great lengths to avoid giving me their phone number and I didn’t even realise! But all this is totally fine because it’s healthy and time saving for all if you recognise you just don’t like someone. I’d rather that than just be used to pass the time.

As the years have gone by, missing the friendships that have left me the most bereft are the ones where I have felt I’ve been able to be the ‘Me Before Expat’, which also equates to the ‘Me Before Children’ and getting to know the ‘You Before Expat’ and the ‘You Before Children’. The friendships that bring in parts of life outside of the immediate, the ones that share news of other happenings and different lives they’ve led. I suppose the ones who invest a bit of themselves in you.

As I become more experienced at watching people leave, I can feel I’m starting to become less affected by it all. I still miss them and I miss our chats and afternoon catch ups with the children but I recover a lot more quickly. Otherwise in between missing my own family and friends in the UK and the 40 or so families I’ve met here then I’d be one big blubbering mess! That’s no way to function.

Sometimes though it can feel quite an effort to put yourself out there and make new friends which you have to for the aforementioned reasons of transient hub. I’ve had a few half serious conversations with seasoned Expats about exactly how much should you invest in new friendships. Is there much point if they’re on a fixed term contract and you’re not because they’re going to be leaving anyways and if you find out that someone you see on a regular basis is contemplating leaving, does that blacklist them too? Should I be owning up to the fact that after almost six years then our time is coming to an end too with potential new friends? Would our friendship be built on a dishonest foundation if I didn’t make this fact known and would they resent me when I jilt them a few months from now having led them on under false friendship pretences? Should I even be hinting to seasoned friends that I could be leaving in case I’m unceremoniously dumped ahead of time? I am of course joking. I’m quite sure they wouldn’t do that….

It’s become a minefield but one which I’m still willing to navigate because it’s not about how long you or I are staying for. It’s about what we gain whilst we are here. If you make true friendships you’ll see them again and it’s a huge joy when that happens. When you know that I like you for all the right reasons and not for reasons of convenience or just to pass the time whilst we’re here. I’ve recently had several reunion encounters and it was like just yesterday we saw each other. Like how it feels when I see my UK friends.

So I’m glad I was plucked out of my comfort zone and had to learn the art of Making New Friends in my Thirties, something which I recently read an article about being such a difficult thing to do. It’s opened my world to people who are from all over the world and who now live all over the world. It’s huge out there and I can travel to many a far flung place and actually know someone. Someone who I would love to see again. There’s one in Dubai, a few in Australia and New Zealand, the USA, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Ireland, I could go on.

And I hope we don’t lose this art of Making New Friends in our Forties either whether an Expat or person back in native country because at any age and for any reason you could come across someone starting over again. You could make one big change for someone just by inviting them for coffee.

The true privilege of living this Expat Life are the people you meet. And so I think I’ve been very privileged indeed.

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Have yourself a hot and sweaty Expat Christmas

Well it’s that time of year again. Just a month to go before Christmas Day. Are you all prepared? I know at least one of you is and has already got a pile of presents all wrapped up.

I’ll probably be wrapping up presents on Christmas Eve. This is not all down to my lack of planning or disorganisation. I have a few presents stashed away which I bought some time ago. Four years ago to be exact when I went away on a Girl’s Weekend to Bangkok and one resourceful Mum who took an empty suitcase led us to the Plan Toys outlet and there I bought a tree house because it was such a bargain. I would say #1 and 2 are about the right age for it now. Except #3 still goes rogue with eating non edible items so maybes I ought to keep it stored for another year?

This will be my sixth Christmas spent in tropical Singapore and it doesn’t feel any more natural to celebrate Christmas in 32 degrees heat than when I first arrived. That’s the reason why my mind isn’t ready for Christmas. For 33 years it had been conditioned to associate cold weather, chilling winds, red wine nights in a cosy pub and possible snow with Christmas being on the way. How can Christmas be on the way when I’m sat chatting to you in shorts and t shirt? Exactly.

I know some part of you will be thinking how lovely it would be to be sat in shorts and t shirts right now as temperatures in the far northern hemisphere plummet towards zero at night. But Christmas is not the time for warm weather. Christmas is a time for goodwill and cosiness. You can’t feel cosy in hot weather. You can only feel cosy when you’re warm and snug in cold weather and I think the season of goodwill is more abundant when you’re feeling warm and cosy than hot and sweaty. In saying that, I felt a lot of goodwill towards the first ever outdoor car park attendant I saw cheerfully sporting his fleecy Santa hat. Didn’t he know a hat keeps in 40% of your body heat? Why would you want to do that here?

Of course, not all expats living in Singapore are from the upper hemisphere. For those from the lower hemisphere they are quite adept at Christmas in this clime. From the offset Christmas is already in the wrong weather and opposite season. How confusing is that? So last week I asked a friend how will she be celebrating Christmas this year in New Zealand and she breezily replied ‘Oh you know, the usual with all the family. A roast turkey with all the trimmings on the BBQ and a salad.’ SALAD? Really? I guess it could be a sprouts salad.

Though I don’t quite feel in the festive spirit, Singapore has been ready since the day after All Hallows Eve. No sooner will Christmas be over then preparations for Chinese New Year will be under way. I’ve concluded that in the absence of actual seasons prescribed by the weather then the only way you can tell what season it is, is by what decorations are festooning the streets. It’s spring when Chinese New Year blossom is all around, summer when the National Day Singapore flags are out, autumn with the Halloween paraphernalia and now we’re at winter with all the Christmas lights and decorations which are always beautiful.

Tanglin Mall do a wonderful festive tradition with what is essentially an outdoor foam party. First an ‘avalanche’ of foam snow comes sweeping out surrounding the base of the Christmas tree and then ‘snow’ comes tumbling out from the top of the Christmas tree. In the dark, warm night air, you could almost kid yourself it really is snowing. Then just like real snow, it all turns to slippery slush.

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Except this year, I think someone forgot to order the Christmas display early enough. There’s been a fair few comments of outrage I’ve heard about how Father Christmas is riding what appears to be Cinderella’s carriage drawn by some snowy white horses, whilst some reindeer are lolling around doing not much at all. To be fair, maybes someone approached the idea with more logic than we are giving them credit for. It never snows in Singapore, and if it ever does then global warming has seriously taken hold, so why would Father Christmas need a sleigh? It would surely just scrape along the concrete causing a right old racket and who could hear those sleigh bells ringing then?

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So we’re a month away from Christmas and it’s time to start feeling a little like Christmas. Where to start? Why Marks and Spencer’s food hall of course! Some mince pies and a Christmas Port I think.

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