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

Out with a bang

It’s my last sleep as a resident of Singapore. 

That is unless I get in an afternoon nap tomorrow which I hope is highly likely. I have no doubt we will be back to visit every now and then and marvel at what has changed and what remains the same.  There is much to love about Singapore. The weather is one where most people rave about what seems like an endless summer. Most days I’ve just felt hot and sweaty or even more hot and sweaty but I am definitely sure on a long, dark winter day I will look at photos of blues skies over Marina Bay Sands and wonder whether I will ever feel so hot and sweaty again. Perhaps I will even kid myself that I actually liked the hot and sweatiness and never lived in a semi permanent state of heat rage. 

Like most things you’re about to let go of, you suddenly feel reluctant to do so. A feeling that kept arising as I was trying to clear stuff out last weekend. On one hand, I never wore that blue top. But on the other hand, it’s a perfectly good top and I definitely could wear it again at some point maybes. Luckily Brilliant New Adventure happened to be right next to me, no doubt itching to grab a bin bag and declutter in a more efficient manner, she immediately picked up said offending garment and placed it in the see-no-more-forever pile. Which I then may or may not have retrieved from the bin bag. I honestly can’t remember.

In fact, this whole process has gone by in a sleepless blur. I haven’t slept more than 6 hours for quite a number of days. Some days I’ve been down to just three. I could close my eyes and fall fast asleep right now but sleep can wait a few days more. It seems having put into motion such a life changing big decision, I have the lost the ability to make simple everyday ones. Like what to eat when meeting friends for lunch and dinner. Often resorting on the goodwill of others to take pity and decide for me. Things must be pretty dire because when it comes to food, that never happens. I will eat what I want to eat and have some of yours too. When I’ve been asked what will I miss most about Singapore, one of the top three has to be the food. From $4 hawker centre fayre to amazing fine dining experiences at Michelin starred restaurants. Singapore – you have spoilt my tastebuds forever. Though I have to say that kidney beans and sweet corn should not be classified dessert components. Yet I was looking at #1, 2 and 3 tuck into an ice kachang this afternoon and they seem to find the combination very much a regular thing. 

And that’s the thing as #2 clearly demonstrated earlier this week. She identifies herself as being Singaporean, she knows Husband and I are not and therefore are the reasons why we have to move away from Singapore. The logic is quite simple in her mind. Singapore is our home. It’s been home for as long as #1, 2 and 3 have been around. So where are we moving to? It certainly can’t be home as home is here. It was an interesting observation made to me some six or seven years ago when I was still fairly new to the whole living away from home thing. I naturally missed the UK very much and spending time with valued friends always made it difficult to leave. But like with most things, something changes over time very subtly that you don’t even notice you think less about being over there and much more about being here.

So now it’s time to head back over there. Be positive for me and don’t tell me you’d rather be here instead of over there. That’s not very helpful when one is trying to imagine a whole new life someplace else. But actually I can’t even imagine what that whole new life will look like. I don’t have feelings of great euphoria but I’m also not being dragged out of Singapore against my will. I know that if we had decided to stay, a whole host of things would pop up that would make me feel less than content. But as with any occasion of letting go of something, there’s that slight panic of wanting to stick with something familiar, predictable even if it’s just not quite right it seems better than the unknown. But we are more brave souls than that aren’t we.

I know a new life is exciting and I am more than equipped to put into motion building a new life for ourselves. The possibilities of creating new memories for everyone makes me want to get on with it right now. Or tomorrow even. I can see small bubbles of new memories just ready and waiting to be collected. Things like Christmas in cold weather. The change of seasons. Walks up mountains and down valleys. These are the good things that will counterbalance the not so good things. The important lesson to remember is to keep moving forward and whilst you may mourn the loss of your old life, you should make the most of the present. 

In saying that, I’ve found myself organising gatherings and outings that has focussed on visiting familiar faces and places. The nostalgia is clearly all my own. For when #1, 2 and 3 have had play dates with old friends we haven’t seen so much of lately, they get right back into things without missing a heartbeat. And you wonder why you didn’t make more effort to see each more often especially when the children get on so well together. Easy to say outside of all school or Gainful Employment related activities. But it is still good to know and I wonder whether #1 and 2 will remember any of this time together. And I wonder how will we keep these many relationships going. This network of international buddies all over the globe. These kids are really lucky to be aware of the wider world at such a young age and to have friends in many interesting and wonderful countries to visit. I do intend on visiting many people when we’re back in the UK and hope that we will be just as comfortable with each other.  

Even though I have been on the farewell trail for some time, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I think I’m actually too tired to let the emotions hit me properly. It will probably happen some time next week when I’ve had more sleep. Or perhaps you and I over here are pretty good friends as it is and whilst things may be different, we will always be friends. I hope so. As I think back over the last five weeks of the farewell trail, I have seen so many of you for BBQs, coffee, lunch, dinner and running. The people who have been a part of our lives these past nine years at different stages. People who have provided good company, wise counsel and booze. People who #1, 2 and 3 adore. Whose children I have watched grow up. I know I will remain in contact with many of you and I know there are some people I may never see again. Two people said that to me as we hugged Farewell and that really unsettled me. There are of course, hundreds of people I’ve met and never seen again from days gone by. But when it’s said out loud, it can make you feel quite odd and sad to realise the high chances of it happening.

I had a list of Things To Do Before Leaving Singapore. The usual tourist hotspots but what #1 and 2 cared most about was seeing friends. Isn’t that lovely? And every spare moment has been spent catching up with old friends and yet still I didn’t get around to seeing all of you. So you’ll just have to stay on in Singapore until my next visit. And I wonder who will still be here in a year or two posting photos and check ins at places I once went to. 

Repatriation they say is harder than moving to a new country. But I guess it’s all about perspective. I have many new things to learn before I’ll even get our new family life going. It will definitely be different and hard but it is also different and hard over here too.  What makes it all worth while are the people you meet and I have met some wonderful people.

 

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A life packed up and ready to go

I guess one who is more organised than I am will not have forgone sleep these past few weeks getting sorted out having known for a few months in advance there’s an international move ahead. It would have been more prudent to slowly shed stuff gradually instead of in the way one crams for an exam the night before. But this is also a good example of how one works well under pressure too.

As I sit here writing to you in the corner of our spare room, I am watching a team of five efficiently at work moving the bits and pieces of our lives to be neatly stacked into the back of a van as if setting up for a giant game of Jenga without any of the pieces falling down.

It has been at times an overwhelming experience sorting through what to keep and what not to keep. What is important and what is not needed as a memory, a momento of a special event. Some of the things that I’ve kept, you may not even recall giving to me, some pieces you definitely will. 

It seems a purge every now and then is good for the soul. What seemed essential in that moment, suddenly holds less meaning later on as it’s replaced with something bigger. I don’t like to throw things out after a single use but isn’t it more wasteful having things sitting there idly. In sorting out what comes and what goes, I’m still reluctant to throw without thinking and prefer everything to go to homes where its use will be appreciated. I’ve tried to sell a few things and the bit of money I’ve made has been handy but sometimes it’s like a full time job. What has given me satisfaction is how others are pleased to receive said items who have more skill or time to do something with them. As I undertook this cleansing of things, it did make one feel lighter but also made me want to make much better use of the things I’ve kept. 

Taking a good look at all of our things threw up some lovely surprises such as photos I came across. There were also many amnesiac moments of how did that get there! Mostly though there was a feeling of letting go and moving on. Letting go of a stage in our lives that has long past. These children of mine are no longer babies, toddlers or preschoolers. It’s time to embrace the next stage. Some of you may be thrilled that you yourself have reached this stage. I am too but there is a part of me that laments how fleeting it all now seems. Letting go of things naturally doesn’t mean you lose the memories but things can trigger a memory and it’s a warm feeling to remember that moment.

Singapore is where we began our family life. Where we got through the crazy, new parenting days with the help of so many amazing friends who guided us and supported us and left an indelible mark. Most have already left Singapore years ago and it will be easier to catch up with them when we are back over in the UK. I guess what is heavy on my mind though is all these familiar places and sights that have shaped the life we have with #1, 2 and 3. 

Nearly every day we pass the hospital where they were born, the condos we’ve lived at, the water fountains they ran around in for free entertainment. All these places in a 15 kilometre radius. We may be halfway  around the globe but the space we carry out our daily lives is actually quite small. But it is so familiar. For me and #1, 2 and 3. And ironically this is one of the reasons why we are ready for the move. To experience something bigger. To travel around the UK, Europe, US. Asia is beautiful and many kinds of wonderful but there is much more out there that I want to see and do.

There is just the middle bit to get through. The disruption period.

The date on the calendar marking the packers arrival means there is no turning back. This move is happening and it’s for real this time. You can be as prepared as you like for them to wrap up all your belongings ready for a new start but in your heart it’s the last vestige of letting go of this life and getting ready for the beginning of a new one. 

Letting go of a familiar routine, even one that you may have tired of, is not often easy. Procrastinating is far easier. I’m ready for a change. It’s easy enough to say but change is a process that needs working through. Whether it’s about relationships, an image overhaul or career focus.  It happens over time with many different building blocks coming together to create a new picture. Like one of those digital advertising panels that flips over a square at a time. 

We can be impatient for change and other times we want to delay it just a while longer because we know that change brings about uncertainty. It takes us out of our comfort zone. It requires reinvention to a degree and it means putting yourself out there again. I have just found my network of familiars who accept my thoughts as they come and now I’m going to have to find some more all over again. Lucky unknown you.

As I buzzed up the packers, the feeling of being overwhelmed was, well, overwhelming. They are here not just to pack up my things. They are here to signify the end of an era. Living in such a transient city as Singapore this is not unusual. It’s what expat living is all about. It’s a merrygoround of people coming and going and over the years I seem to have gotten used to that too.

But you know, it’s almost like the packers know this time can be fraught. I have done three local moves where it has been a frenzy of activity and movement. They swarm in and everything disappears. I was concerned it would be like that this time and how little control just watching from the sidelines would make me feel at a time where there are many unknown variables left to figure. But it’s been very calm and I feel so much better. Still in need of sleep though.

And so here we are. Everything is loaded and ready to go. Am I ready to go?

I need to take in a deep breathe and release the tension and stress of the last few weeks. All the wrapping up of school for #1, 2 and 3. The final catch ups and play dates. The gearing up for something new that may not start off wonderfully but we will get there. 

The same as how we got to here starting a new life from the beginning in Singapore. I’m a little bit teary. A little bit sad and nostalgic. But I’m grateful for this experience and opportunities I’ve had to travel and meet so many people from different cultures and be educated on a wider world that has opened my mind and heart. 

But yes. I do think I’m ready to go. My stuff is moving and I need to go with it. 

Thank you to Classic Moving Services for a professional and reassuring team led by Mr Sam who came amidst chaos and calmly sorted it all out with a cheerful smile. 

 

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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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When two become five – How it all began

On the one hand I wonder how quickly it seems we are marking our fifth year in Singapore but on the other hand, I’ve cumulatively spent nearly two out of the five years incubating our three children. So that hasn’t really given us a lot of time to wake up from sleep deprived nights and properly take in what’s all around us.

It all started at the beginning of 2008 when Husband’s department was rumoured to be shutting shop and the murmurings of an impending economic crash started circulating. We had not long been married and our thoughts were turning towards starting a family. The furthest we were planning on moving to was just a few miles away in Winchmore Hill, London; somewhere slightly more affordable for a bigger space, close to good friends and also not far from the A1/M1 access routes back up north to see our respective families. With the threat of redundancy looming even greater, Husband decided to widen his search area. Globally. The opportunities didn’t appear overnight, more like a couple of months and still it wasn’t a real possibility. Interviews in the financial sector can stretch to five even six rounds and still nothing comes of it. But suddenly, a change in tempo indicated that something would occur. It came down to this offer in Singapore or one with Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong. You can imagine which one we are thankful for taking now.

The week after Husband accepted the offer, I found out #1 was on the way. Hugely exciting of course to be expecting your first child and full of naivety too about how utterly life changing it would be. Did we reconsider? A little but then what would be the alternative? The redundancy happened and nothing in London looked promising. We decided to take the chance because we figured it would only be for a couple of years and we would come back home. Famous last words.

Back then we had a comfortable, steady life going on like most people. Newly married with an exciting future to plan for, an established network of friends with a busy social calendar that was full weeks in advance and I was working for Cancer Research UK in a role I had been wanting to break into for some time. But the terrain was going to change no matter what we ourselves chose to do. One of our Best Men went through a separation which we never saw coming and so that changed our regular Sunday lunch gatherings. Children are not the only casualties of divorce and I miss her still. Then he too moved across the globe.

Husband moved out to Singapore three months before I did when I was 10 weeks preggers. I had a three month notice period to work through and I also wanted to use this time to get used to the idea and catch up with family and friends before the Big Move. It was a bit strange living on my own for the first time in nine years and doing everything for myself but actually you get used to it pretty quickly. There’s no one else to think of at mealtimes, less laundry, less mess and you get to watch anything you like. Of course I knew it was only temporary but I was glad I enjoyed my own company as that was something I would endure more of over the next few months.

I didn’t think too much about being on my own preggers either, I was nearing the end of the first trimester and I had a whole group of friends on hand for anything I needed. I was well looked after and my sister in law lived only a short walk away too. Mrs Steamer came with me for the twelve week scan and it was a bit sad that Husband missed out on this very first time but the reassurance that all was going well was most important. He made it to the next one though and we’ve had many more since.

I’m really glad I took the time to go and visit friends I hadn’t seen for a while. Friends who had moved out of London and live in Croydon, Cardiff, Chatham and Thame. It’s really good to know what you’re leaving in order to make coming back something to look forward to. I will never ever forget the stories about labour that Mrs Calamari shared with me, I never understood the significance at the time but all I can say is you can eat far too many prunes to encourage that first bowel movement.

Then there’s family. I miss my Mum and Dad all the time but they are very stoical. Mr Li in particular is that very old fashioned Chinese man who, despite living in the UK for nearly 50 years, still holds some very strong Chinese principles. He really does believe I ‘belong’ to the clan of Pontefract and therefore must do Husband’s bidding. Does he know his daughter at all? I find it hard to be this far away and I feel terribly guilty that he has five grandchildren in total but has never spent their early years with them. With the help of Nephew #1, he has only in the last few months discovered the magic of Skype and the first thing he said when he saw all three was ‘Why are they not wearing any clothes, they’ll catch a cold’. Well it’s 31 degrees indoors.

So that’s how I came to be in Singapore and tomorrow I’ll tell you how it’s been.

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