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

I don’t know you and yet……..

I always find the feeling quite bizarre. That feeling of sadness at the news of someone passing. Famous people I mean. Not the people who surround you everyday.

The people whose face seems so familiar. Instantly recognisable if they were in the picture round of a pub quiz. So much so that if you happen to celebrity spot them in the street, your first thought may be to call out in greeting to someone you know but can’t quite place. Maybe a friend of a friend, someone you met at a party perhaps or through Gainful Employment. Then you realise actually you don’t know them at all and hurriedly retract that outstretched hand about to wave and break off making eye contact. Well you do sort of know them. You know their name at least, what songs they’ve sungs, films they’ve been in, their favourite colour even but still you’re strangers. 

That is what I find quite bizarre. No matter how famous they are with their highs and lows splashed across the media pages on line and in print, you don’t really know them at all. Yet news of their passing can bring a sense of loss. I often wondered whether it was weird to feel that way. With it being someone famous and all. Are you really allowed to feel a sense of grief over their death? I thought grief was reserved for family and friends only. 

The news of people passing having enjoyed a long life or tragically an all too short life is sad without question whether celebrity or not. But when it is a celebrity who has influenced your musical choices, picked you up when you were feeling down, called to you through their lyrics and bonded you with like minded people. I think it’s perfectly natural to feel a sense of loss. An acknowledgement of how their contribution through film, song, political beliefs or something else has impacted on you. Your youth, your student years, your carefree years and now your parenting years whereby you want to share your cultural preferences with your children. 

Mostly I feel so sad because the work of these people made me happy. Still makes me happy. Probably always will. Isn’t that a great achievement for anyone. That album you listen to because it was the soundtrack to a particular time of your life. The film that always gets watched to kickstart the festive season. The book you read that transports you to a different time and place. You can listen to the music, watch the film and re-read the book so many times and it never gets old. I’m a big fan of a number of celebrities for various reasons. Mostly because they make me feel good and happy which is their job after all. I like those that work hard with their talent and also did great things with their fame and celebrity status to bring about change.       
   
I guess it shouldn’t feel so bizarre at all. Someone that makes you happy has passed away. Unexpectedly so. I was just looking at the promotional posters of David Bowie’s new album in the shops at the weekend. Then all of a sudden, on a Monday afternoon whilst sat at my desk, a BBC news flash pops announcing the breaking news that David Bowie has died. I was almost filled with disbelief. But how? How can he be? He’s just released a new album that should mean he’s alive and well. What do you mean he’s passed away? 

A man who has been in the background of my cultural choices. The tv shows named after his title tracks and the vivid images of the different personas he took over the years. The rock and roll lifestyle I’ve only read about and not seen pasted across the internet. I can just focus on the simple fact that I liked what he did and I am sad to know that they are no more. I’ve read many an article and obituary about David Bowie these last two days. The fact that he kept his illness quiet for so long and essentially kept the general public at bay to spend his days with those that matter. A far cry to the actions of many a lesser celebrity who like to keep you informed every step of the way. 

For the rest of us, we can seek comfort in the work they left behind. Listening to old albums in a new context, Appreciating true genius star quality. Celebrity and fame means such different things these days. Some people are so called celebrities and yet I couldn’t tell you what they are famous for. I imagine they can’t either. 

So I’ve concluded with myself that it’s not so bizarre after all, feeling a sense of loss over the death of someone famous that I don’t really know but sort of do. I’m appreciative that what we still have is years and years of timeless enjoyment that can be shared with our own children. Already #1, 2 and 3 are familiar with the Best of Bowie album and Space Oddity is a favourite. No doubt they will soon be familiar with this lastest album, his parting gift as it’s called and I shall listen to it with poignancy but also positivity as I share his music with a new generation.

  

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我是中國人

In case you haven’t noticed I am Chinese. I am also British. In global Chinese circles I am known as a BBC, as in British Born Chinese. The US version is an ABC. Figure that one out. 



It’s not something I usually spend a lot of time pondering. I live my life as me. Sometimes I’m speaking Chinese, well Hakka which is the New Territories dialect my whole clan speak. Sometimes I’m speaking Cantonese. Sometimes I’m speaking Mandarin very poorly and following up with a lot of nodding and reverting back to English. Mostly I’m speaking English. Which I speak very well. It’s only contested occasionally when Husband thinks I’ve injected too many Geordie influenced elongated vowels into conversation. 


So why am I pondering this now? Well, a little belatedly because I was too busy talking about my running progress to talk about Chinese New Year a few weeks back. The new Lunar New Year began a month ago on Thursday, 19 February 2015. Signalling the end of winter and the start of spring. Of new beginnings. Of a quest for better luck, better fortune, better health for all. 


It is now the Year of the Sheep. Or is it the Year of the Ram? Or maybe’s it’s the Year of the Goat? It caused quite a bit of confusion. For sheep and goat are quite different animals are they not? I think so. But the Chinese character is the same for both. 



So every year on social media I wish everyone Gung Hey Fat Choi/Gong Xi Fa Cai. Good health and prosperity. Peace in your family and may you achieve all that you wish for. Written in both Chinese and English. And every year, I get a comment from Big Brother Li and Lil Bro expressing surprise at how ‘good’ my Chinese is. Every year. Without fail. I don’t go on about how good their English is.


Truth be told, my Chinese is not that good. It’s so basic that even #1 and 2 are surpassing me. Something I realised over the Chinese New Year holidays when #1 and 2 were able to recite a full Chinese New Year poem to me. And when #1 asked me to read a billboard poster for Goldilocks and the Three Bears written in Chinese, then proceeded to tell me the characters that he could read. I’m really impressed with what he’s picked up. #2 has the intonations spot on. They have the potential to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese and I intend to help them along with it. And whilst we’re at it, I should take the opportunity to improve my own. It’s much better than six years ago when I could hardly follow a basic conversation in Mandarin Chinese. Now I can garner the gist of most things. If they speak really slowly. And loudly.



One of the great things about living this Expat Life is that it is a truly multicultural environment for us to live in. We are amongst many nationalities, cultures and languages. For a long time #1 identified himself as the only Chinese person in our family because he could speak Mandarin Chinese. I was English because I only speak English but as he gets older, he has a growing understanding of the different nationalities around us. That different countries celebrate different traditions and at school they are encouraged to learn more about the wider world and to embrace the differences that we all bring.


And so, I love living my life as me and part of that life has had strong Chinese influences that will never leave me. Influences that will be passed onto #1, 2 and 3.  They are not inherently ‘Chinese’ influences. They just happen to be values important to my Dad, Mr Li and my Mum that I respect greatly. 



Having grown up in the UK, of course I’ve been influenced mostly by my environment. We always celebrated Chinese New Year, mid Autumn festival and some other festival of the hungry ghosts but I only remember my mum making these really yummy rice dumplings. Every festival is celebrated with food and usually it’s the food that I remember most rather than the meaning of the festival.


So it is just as well that we’re spending all this time in Singapore that is a mix of cultures. It’s rather fair of them to allocate two public holidays a year to each faith. It is whilst living in Singapore that I have learnt more about my Chinese heritage and embraced it more so than I would have done without having this experience. And it is important to celebrate what makes us different. So long as we are inclusive of this celebration with everyone around us.


I especially like how #1 and 2 are learning the history behind the celebrations and not just look forward to these festivals because we get to eat pineapple tarts and mooncakes at certain times of the year. I like how they are teaching me the stories behind the Chinese animal zodiac signs and the relevance of why certain customs are followed. 



Embracing cultural identity is important. It provides us with history and a connection to our ancestors and bridge the gap between grandparents and grandchildren. It can provide a sense of belonging too. It should not exclude us. Neither should we be mocked for not knowing much about our cultural heritage, whatever that may be. We should educate each other and share in the celebration of all festivals. 


For who isn’t happy celebrating something good?




 

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Her name is Stubborn Wolf

#3 is not quite two years and four months old yet.

But as she is in her twos, she can invariably be labelled as being in the Terrible Twos.

The Terrible Twos is that perceived dreaded time of incoherent demands, frustrated screaming and full bodied down on the ground tantrums that can happen any time and anywhere.

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Can I just say that this period of behaviour doesn’t end when they hit three. Fact.

When they are two you can put it down to the Terrible Twos. When they still display moments of incoherent demands, frustrated screaming and full bodied down on the ground tantrums at the age of four and six. Well, perhaps I ought to reassess my parenting capabilities. But that is by the by and not what I’m going to talk about today.

Today is all about #3.

#3 recently started swimming lessons with Coach A. Coach A started teaching #1 almost three years ago and #2 for two years. Both #1 and 2 are very competent swimmers which I’m very proud of and which is a necessity in Singapore with the condo pool downstairs (Yes, I know).

At the age of two years and not quite four months old, it may seem a bit young for solo swimming lessons but she’s actually very good at understanding what you’re saying. Her language ability is pretty good and she is not shy in vocalising her grievances. As Coach A was to find out.

Two weeks ago, just after the Christmas break, #3 had her second proper solo swimming lesson. I took her down to the pool, handed her over to Coach A and walked off with her yelling after me ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy’. I’ve done enough school drop offs with screaming child clinging onto me to be able to do the walking off in a cold hearted fashion without wanting to break down and cry myself now. Besides I’m only upstairs and I can keep an eye and ear out for her should she get beyond hysterical.

I’m watching from the balcony overlooking the pool and I can hear #3 crying. I’m ready to go back downstairs and retrieve her thinking perhaps at two years and not quite four months, she’s just a bit too young for this. But then I see her holding Coach A’s hand in the pool as he puts her through some walking up and down the pool drills.

I can still hear crying when she’s holding onto the floats and kicking her legs up and down.

I can still hear her crying as she goes off and collects floating things.

She’s crying and yet she’s still actually having the swimming lesson. So I hold back and just let it carry on. At times she’s not crying but then seems to remember that she needs to express just how disgruntled she is with this swimming lesson situation that she restarts and throws in some random yells.

Time is up and I head down to collect her. As I near, Coach A holds up a hand to ward me off. I can’t quite see what’s going on from that distance but he’s giving instructions to #3 which she appears to be following.

Finally, he beckons me forward and I wrap up #3 in her towel and give her a big hug. I ask Coach A how did it all go and his first response is ‘She’s even more stubborn than #1 and 2’.

But she’s two! Surely that’s her prerogative! Surely it’s just the Terrible Twos at play. This stage will pass. It has to.

To hear someone say that this is not a phase, that this is part of who she is was quite a shock. Then I recalled all the times others have hinted as much. That #3 has that glint in her eye that is so familiar to them because they’ve seen it before in their own beautifully spirited child I have often admired for their character and because they make me laugh with the mischief they get up to.

I remember Big Brother Li telling me that the more crowns you have, the more stubborn you are. Both #3 and I have two. When we were back in the UK, my Mum remarked that people with curly hair are much less obedient when #3 was diving off the couch. I naturally dismissed all this as just folklore. I mean you’re telling me that the whole of the Chinese population do as they are told because on the whole, they have poker straight hair? Pah indeed.

In a moment of pique when #3 was being particularly high spirited at dinner time, I said to her in the presence of #1 and 2, ‘No wonder Por Por says you’re hard to teach with your curly hair’. #2 who likes to emulate many of my more wise sayings, was heard by Husband to say, ‘#3 your hair will never be straight with this naughty behaviour’ and proceeded to ask me where she could have gotten this idea from. Where indeed and I go on about my Dad, Mr Li coming out with some random stuff!

Why should it come as any surprise that a child of mine should be called stubborn. Where could they get that from?

It’s not so much that #3 is charmingly stubborn that sticks with me. I’d rather a child who didn’t easily conform and has a will to do things their way, except for the times when I am asking them to do as I say. It’s when Coach A tells me that I should stop praising #3 for every single thing that she does. He reckons that for every ten things that she does, give her praise for just two of them. That way, she’ll soon learn to do things as just par for the course.

Yes I get that, it’s something that #1 is finding hard when he doesn’t get all the praise for something as regular as putting on his own socks yet if #3 does so then she is just so clever and it’s accompanied by a round of applause and kisses and smiles and it’s just so cute. As I held #3, who seemed like such a big girl going off on her solo swimming lessons, I couldn’t quite grasp the notion that she should no longer receive praise for every single thing that she does because at her age, every single thing she does is just simply marvellous. Except for the times when she’s screaming in frustration and lying sprawled on the floor in the supermarket because I wouldn’t let her stand Kate Winslet in Titanic-top-of-the-world style in the shopping trolley.

All it made me feel is that I would just like to hold her tighter and kiss those chubby cheeks and tell her just how fabulous she always is. Because I do know that there will come a point when you can’t tell them that every single thing they do is phenomenal. Some of it is quite normal like putting on your own socks, feeding yourself and emptying your bowels where you ought to. We have trouble getting out of the door with minimal fuss without having to applaud every single movement. And when was the last time you got praise for brushing your own teeth.

I do give praise. I recognise achievements in not just #1, 2 and 3 but in you Grown Ups too. It’s called being supportive and recognising in others skills that I am sadly lacking.

Coach A tells me that in order for #3 to learn to swim she needs to follow his instruction. I get that too. So in order to get her to understand that, he was rolling a ball away from them and asking her to go and get it. She replies ‘No, you go and get it’. I’m half embarrassed and half proud of her. But then he tells me, ‘I’ll give it another lesson or two and she’ll soon be following my direction’.

Whilst I know that this is necessary and I do want her to learn to swim and build a rapport with Coach A. It also makes me sad to think he’s trying to break her stubborn spirit. That she’s going to conform and follow his instructions and not be telling him to go pick up a ball when he was the one to pointlessly roll it away.

I also know that, sooner or later when she does know how to swim, she’ll probably be the one jumping off the two meter drop into the pool I’d much rather she wouldn’t.

Will she listen to me if I tell her not to?

What do you think?

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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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Is the Easter Bunny for real?

#1 has been very dubious about the Easter Bunny this year.

It’s quite a tricky one when #1 declares the Easter Bunny can’t be real and it’s just someone in a costume when faced with an Easter Bunny like this. What could I possibly say to that? At least Father Christmas on the whole looks like how he’s imagined to look.

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How could he have figured that one out? Especially when out for lunch on Easter Sunday there’s a bright pink one hopping about. #2, who is not a natural with all things animal was quite simply petrified of a Bunny two and a half times her size. I would be too.

We’ve had a lot of fun over the Easter weekend, though in Singapore only Good Friday is a public holiday. The children have been on four Easter egg hunts. The fridge is full of chocolate, a situation that needs to be rectified by the grown ups. They’ve decorated eggs and made pictures.

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They’ve had a lovely, colourful time and I’m appreciative of the effort that friends have put into turning their gardens into egg hunting grounds and hosting Easter parties at their condo. Easter with all its spring colours is a pretty time of year.

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At home we do our own egg hunt in the living room. #1, 2 and 3 are banished to their bedroom as we scatter the eggs here and there. All egg hunts in the tropics have to be a quick affair before the chocolate melts or the ants get to them. Then we give them a countdown and out they come with their baskets and fill them to the brim. It’s one of the things we really enjoy watching them do. They get a lot of fun out of it and I particularly like watching #3 get involved even though she hasn’t a clue what’s going but she’s one of the first to get tucking into an egg wrapper and all.

There’s a part of me that struggles with celebrating only the fun side of Easter. The religious side is a lot more serious to explain than the arrival of sweet baby Jesus at Christmas. And it seems to come about so quickly that we need to talk about the departure of Jesus when he was just born a few months ago. It’s a very complicated concept for young children. Especially at an age where the question of death and dying seems to pop out a lot from their young minds.

So back to the Easter Bunny. #1 gets up on Easter Monday waving a chocolate egg in the air, happy to announce to #2 that he does exist because he came in the night and left them both an egg.

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When two become five – The beginning of this Expat Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Dad’s Mum

Today’s post has me rather torn, I want to write it but then again I don’t because I don’t know how it’s going to make me feel. It’s been ten years since the passing of my Grandma, my Por Por. I consider myself lucky that at this age the loss of someone close to me has only crossed my path a few times. I often think of my Grandma, more so since she has been gone than before. I suspect living in Singapore and seeing lots of elderly Chinese women and the Buddhist temples reminds me of her. She was 92 at the time, a long life by any means and nothing to be sad about.

I received the news at work one morning, it wasn’t entirely unexpected because her health had gradually deteriorated following a stroke three years earlier. Plans were already in place to fly out to Hong Kong with my Dad, Mr Li, to see her but it seems she couldn’t hold on.

In Chinese culture, the men inherit the land and the hierarchy of birth position is observed, though perhaps not as strictly these days. My Dad being the eldest of four is Head of the Li family, in name only. People are not simply an aunt or uncle, brother or sister, we all are ranked within the family by paternal or maternal relations and age. Everyone knows their place and their responsibility. This is no bad thing for the younger ones who are always protected by the older ones. I am protected by my older brother until the end of my days, a role he takes very seriously. Too seriously at times I might add.

It was a three day event held in a memorial hall with two anterooms, one to burn paper offerings for the afterlife and in the other my Grandma lay behind a glass wall so everyone could come and pay their respects. I thought I would feel nervous and I was but my brother said there was nothing to be scared of because she was family but I didn’t have to go in. I had to do it in my own time and when I went into the room, there she was; dressed in an Empress style traditional outift, her face made up in quiet repose. I had nothing to fear but I could now see that she really was gone.

Monks chanted; bells rang; people came and went whilst we, the direct descendants, dressed in traditional white mourning clothes, knelt on mats to one side. The following day was the burial and we arrived at the memorial hall to find my Grandma looking peaceful, ready for this final journey. In line with tradition, my Grandma’s younger brother would come to close the casket. I don’t know how many years it had been since my Dad saw my Great Uncle but something broke inside of him. I was mid conversation with someone when I heard the sound of heartbreak. I looked around but wasn’t expecting it to be coming from my Dad. I had never seen him cry before, always the one to be telling us to accept things as they are. Then it dawned on me, my Dad had lost his Mum. It didn’t matter that he was 66 years old himself. My Great Uncle, the elder protective figure had unleashed the grief in my Dad, the younger nephew.

I regret not knowing more about my Grandma. Since when does it occur to the young who are so excited about getting on with their own lives to notice the older people have already done as much. My Grandma may have lived a long life but at times it definitely wasn’t an easy one. She was widowed very early, my Grandfather was involved in an accident with an army vehicle I think it was. My Dad was 11 and my uncle being the youngest was only one. My Dad has known some really tough days where food was scarce, this much he has mentioned before. But in those days, the village was a community; neighbours who are family looking out for each other. Of course there are bound to be people willing to take advantage of a widow with four young children to raise and land worth much more was exchanged for far less because there was no one who could rightfully argue otherwise. My Grandma raised all four children by herself, you can imagine how much admiration and love my Dad had for her. He once told me that how difficult it was to live in Kowloon, barely half an hour cab ride away, when he had to start work. So you can imagine how terribly homesick he must have been when he had to leave Hong Kong for England in 1960 to find a better living to support his family because he was the eldest.

My Dad, my uncle and my two aunts in 2003.

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My brother knows our Grandma far better as he was raised by her and as a young man starting out in his married life he returned to Hong Kong and lived with our Grandma so she saw the arrival of her great grandson. I know she must have been a strong, marvellous woman and my brother adored her and talks about her still. The wealth of history that she had experienced living through two World Wars, the advancement in technology (not that she really cared, a telephone and electricity were probably her greatest extravagances) and the wisdom of age.

Here we are back in 1990 with our Grandma. Is it ok to point out my particularly frizzy hair? I look like Rowlf from the Muppets! Of course I never realised it at the time. Humidity.

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Where I come from begins in part with my Por Por and Gung Gung and in part with my maternal Grandparents, both who also passed away when I was very young and I know very little about them. If I could meet anyone from any time, it would be them. The people who shaped my parents, who in turn shaped me.

My Grandma currently rests in the hillside of our village. As part of the ceremony, coins were thrown and the ones we caught are saved to bring good luck to the new generation. This isn’t the end though, because in Chinese culture my Grandma’s final resting place will be with my Gung Gung and my Great Grandparents in the ancestral temple. The move won’t happen for a few more years yet and it will be an occasion I hope I will be there for. (Even though I’m not supposed to be part of the clan now I’m married off to the town of Pontefract). When it does happen I hope I will have a lot more to tell #1, 2 and 3 about the lucky coins I have saved for them.

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In the company of women

Last night I was out for dinner with a group of School Mum friends at Don Quijote, a Spanish restaurant doing tapas with an Asian twist. It seems a lot of restaurants have some sort of Asian fusion going on to explain away the lack of authenticity. Whilst I’m not really up on my tapas having only been to Spain twice (does Tenerife count?), I know that a patatas bravas is a little bit more than some potato wedges splodged with half a tin of chopped tomatoes on top, shame on you Wine Connection of Robertson Quay. I spent over a decade, care of Uncle Monkey, believing the components of sangria to be red wine, cheap brandy, fizzy Fanta and some chunks of apple and orange. He, on the other hand, ought to know better having spent his formative years running around semi nude on many a Spanish beach. An old habit he’s yet to shake off, which concerns me slightly living in Singapore now as #1, 2 and 3 rather enjoy living free of clothing.

It’s only the second time I have socialised with School Mum friends since #1 and now #2 started at school so I had no real expectations attached to the evening. You have a brief chat at school drop off or pick up and at school events but there is never enough time to really get to know one another. The other thing is that when you have only your children in common then you tend to start off on your best behaviour, almost like my behaviour is a reflection on my children (Good luck them). So it was a huge surprise to find myself laughing to the point of not being able to breathe with this group of women last night, one is so funny I almost regret spending $200 on Al Murray tickets for a comedy fix. When I left London, I left a whole network of friends accumulated over some 30 odd years, of course it was difficult to find yourself friendless but with everyone else carrying on their gatherings without you. Equally I shouldn’t be surprised that there are new friends to be discovered who can be real friends even though you met through Baby Groups or School. It’s what brings you together like going off to school, University or work but it’s time, personality and a willingness to make the effort that form friendships. At the moment in my head they are still my School Mum friends but soon I’m sure some of them will just be friends.

Exactly six years ago today, I was also sitting down with a group of women but this time at a genuine authentic tapas bar in Madrid, this was the moment I discovered there was in fact no fizzy Fanta in sangria. The occasion was my Hen Do and the entire weekend was a complete surprise left in the capable hands of three Bridesmaids (the forth was only 14 at the time but I wonder where she would have suggested, must ask her, Alton Towers I bet), who organised my travel, hotel, entertainment and everyone else. I am hugely appreciative of the effort that was involved because although I made perfectly clear (I think) that it didn’t matter where we went or what we did I would be happy with anything so long as the listed group of women were invited along. It’s a huge job though, working without a remit and trying to please another 10 women also part of the party. I love a Hen Do because you meet all the other women involved with the Bride and there’s a level of curiosity too in meeting the person from back home you’ve heard so much about or the ones from University with many shared experiences or the work colleague who is involved with all things current. They all mean something very special don’t they but it is a daunting experience gathering them altogether because they may have you in common but perhaps not much with each other. Perhaps the other scary thought is that collectively, the things these women know about you would be enough to document your whole life history.

One thing I do remember thinking at the time, is that I had rarely been on holiday with my female friends and it was such a shame that this great gathering was happening before I was getting married and would probably never have the opportunity to again. (This actually isn’t true because two years later I went to Bangkok for two days with a group of 11 women from #1’s Mum’s Group!). It’s an overwhelming feeling having all your closest female friends around you, especially at a time of high emotion too but it’s flattering that they care enough to be there, because a Hen Do these days is not often a budget affair. My Cousin Jenn is nine years older than me and we lived together from when I was three until she got married when I was 14, practically my sister. She was my surprise guest at my Hen Do, I was sat outside the genuine, authentic tapas bar waiting for all arrivals when suddenly there she was! I think I screamed, she’s highly excitable so I think I must have done. My Cousin Jenn loves surprises, not always when they happen to her but she loves organising a good surprise. I love this memory, of seeing her there in Spain at a big occasion in my life when often before I had left her behind whilst I set off into my twenties. This rapidly turned to feelings of mortification when the obligatory cringe inducing photos of my various youthful guises made an appearance. You can’t escape photographic evidence, digital or otherwise and they were LAMINATED no less, in case I tried to destroy them by vomit I imagine.

I ended up with a lot of phallic goods that weekend. I’ve been looking at the photos tonight and was reminded of a ‘task’ that involved obtaining a pair of men’s boxer shorts. Why was that a good idea? I didn’t go home with them I’ll tell you now but you ought to ask Ms Beefy that question. To me, it was a glorious weekend of being amongst women I love being with, who know me well enough to share confidences with and who make me belly laugh. Perhaps not by telling the same joke but each has a joke inside of them that I find hilariously funny. If you can renew your wedding vows, you may as well renew your Hen Do too. Would I still have these same women at my Hen Do? Absolutely, with a few more to throw in the mix too.

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Live the life you have always dreamed of

I have a friend who is about to embark on a wonderful new adventure, albeit an unexpected one. In a few weeks all her worldly possessions will be packed up and shipped over to Hong Kong for a new beginning that will be both familiar, because she’s lived there before, and wildly different, because she’s no longer the late night party loving free spirit of ten years ago. In saying that, she was out until 3am last night!

I call it an unexpected adventure because neither she nor I envisaged this move a mere 3 months ago. Now, I know that living in an Expat world this is what happens. Most people are based in Singapore for only a few years and in my almost 5 years here I have waved off over 30 friends to new countries (some have even moved back to Singapore for round two which of course is a Yay!) and saying Goodbye is always a wrench but it has dramatically boosted the number of Facebook Friends I have. Being far away from home and sharing some unique experiences like becoming parents for the first time and not fully being able to integrate into the local community is quite bonding. I feel very honoured to say that I would count many of these people as proper friends and not just Facebook Friends.

If you were to believe in fate then I would say my friendship with Unexpected Adventure friend reinforces the existence of it. We first met over 22 years ago, both of us grew up in the North East of England, she is a refined Geordie. At the age of 16/17, I met a group of similar aged Chinese people, I guess like all adolescents you’re keen to feel a sense of community and want to share with others interests that are culturally relevant to them too. So we hung out in the same crowd for a couple of years before we went off to University and then pathways become more diverse for everyone and you just end up losing touch.

However, with the power of social media, a mutual friend got in contact a couple of years before I moved out to Singapore and when I told this friend that I was heading this way, she told me that Unexpected Adventure friend was living here too with her husband and young son. So a couple of months after landing in Singapore, we met up and of course after a break of 15 years it takes some time to find common ground, catch up and build a new friendship based on our current lives and not one built on ‘Do you remember when..’. Although that does creep in every now and then and we have a good giggle about things like what we wore, what we did for social activities (going for walks in the woods at night, BBQs on South Shields beach on Christmas Eve) and what seemed important.

Since we reconnected, our friendship slowly simmered away at a steady pace. As I found my feet with becoming a Mum to #1 and navigating a way through my own adventure in Singapore, we always kept in touch and met up occasionally and as #1 grew older it started being about the boys getting to know one another too. Then along came #2, a girl whom Unexpected Adventure dotes on and then #3, whom Unexpected Adventure would probably bundle up to Hong Kong with her if she had the space. So Unexpected Adventure has been present for the arrival of all three of my children and been one of the first people to see them newly pushed out. Only one of two people (I might call the other one Mad Cat Woman) outside of Husband who can claim that role. I think living in an Expat world that is quite a rare thing to have.

She is more like family now and the children have bonded so well together. If I am honest I had envisaged myself being the one to leave her behind in Singapore but not for a while yet and with plenty of notice and plans to meet up in the UK every year and being safe in the knowledge that she would be here for our trips back with the children.

She was also meant to be here throughout my year to 40 as well! I was going to prop her up first and then she was going to help me. But plans change don’t they. I know why she has to go and it is selfish of me to want her to stay when eventually I would leave Singapore myself. It’s just that I will miss her. She is so unlike me. Much more calm, resourceful, patient and the children love her and she loves them. She always thinks of them and knows what sort of treats would cheer them up. Which is why I am also angry that all this in her hasn’t been recognised and appreciated like it should and why it helps me accept the changes ahead because I want for her the life that she has always dreamed of and nothing less.

As friends, we can choose to be as visible as we like and for me she is always wearing a flourescent safety vest. I am sad now to say Goodbye but I know she has a new future ahead of her that will bring happiness and exciting possibilities with someone who is deserving of this truly amazing, warm and kind hearted woman. Besides, she’s only moving to a new country that’s still in the same time zone and one that I’m very likely to visit seeing as half my family live there.

This time, though our paths may have to diverge again, you can be sure it won’t be 15 years before I see her again. Can I just say again, publicly, and whilst she can’t see the tears rolling down my face, that I am so grateful for having met her in the first place and for finding such a wonderful friend again. I never would have imagined we would be such good friends, 22 years ago but look at us today.

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