“I’m staring out into the night, trying to hide the pain I’m going to the place where love And feeling good don’t ever cost a thing And the pain you feel’s a different kind of painWell, I’m going home, back to the place where I belong And where your love has always been enough for me I’m not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong I don’t regret this life I chose for me But these places and these faces are getting old So I’m going home, well I’m going home….”
“Home” by Daughtry
Last Friday as I drove away from my last tennis match as a “Soaring Swede”, this song came on the radio (Singapore fact: the radio here almost always plays American soft pop and rock from the 1970-2000’s, I think it must be the karaoke culture as while cheesy, these songs are all very fun to sing). I was already emotional from saying goodbye to my teammate as i felt a foreboding that it might be the last time. There were a lot of rumors circulating that additional restrictions were coming from our increased community covid cases. You see, Singapore has a 0 community case policy, 5 is tolerable if they can trace them, we had been a few days in the teens and twenties with a few dreaded, unlinked cases. Everyone knew something was coming. That afternoon they put us in what the government calls “Phase 2 heightened alert”. All restaurants were to close and there was a new 2 person rule. Only 2 people per day can visit your home and you can only be in public with 1 other person (families are to travel in pairs, keeping 2-3 meters in between). Strangely, retail stores remained open but mall capacity was reduced to 25%. Work was to be remote. Happily, the kids were still in school. These restrictions were in place until June 13th.
We had planned to stay until July and then travel on our way home. But these new restrictions were a reality check for us. We would be staying in Singapore to be holed up in our condo when we could go home now and not live this way. But school was still open, so we thought, we’ll move up our return date to the first week of June so Liam can be here through his 5th grade graduation on June 1st.
Then Sunday night they closed the schools and went remote effective on Wednesday. That was our trigger to accelerate the move. Monday morning I confirmed with all the teachers that our kids would not be penalized by leaving 3 weeks early (they will not be) and then we set the wheels in motion to fly out Sunday, May 23rd at 1am Singapore time.
Needless to say this week has been a crazy, emotional rollercoaster that I think we’re all going to take time to recover from. Luckily the kids have been able to see all of their close friends to say goodbye (huge thank you to their families who made this possible). We have made good friends here and have lived through a time that will be seared into us forever. I won’t say goodbye, just see you soon…
A little over a week ago, my lovely friend, Minh asked me what we were excited to do in our last few weeks here. I couldn’t really think of anything. You see, we’ve covered almost every square inch of this little red dot. We did everything we wanted to here. It’s time to go home.
We will all leave a piece of our hearts here in Singapore. I’m sad for the bitter ending to what was an experience that was 💯 different than we planned, but rewarding in so many ways. We are all different and I think better people than we were 18 months ago when we arrived, so for that, I will always be grateful to my adopted home of Singapore…
No country is immune… as of Saturday, Singapore is taking a step back. Back to phase 2 until may 30th. While it’s really only a minor reset (group sizes reduced to 5, 2 social outings per day, some places closed, work from home back to 50%) it mentally feels bad. It feels like we did in March 2020. The uncertainty, the constant pressure to “behave” and follow all the covid restrictions, and most negatively, the xenophobic reactions. We are luckier than most as we are leaving soon and if Singapore goes into a full lockdown, we will pull forward our move and come home sooner.
The biggest change is the increased border restrictions. They are the strictest they’ve been since last April. Unless you enter from one of 6 countries (think Australia, New Zealand…) you will have to get government approval and then quarantine 21 days in a hotel room (up from 14 days). Yesterday they added the wrinkle that they will be canceling all approval entries for pass holders (this includes expats) through July 5th. So any expats looking to go home for the summer are in a VERY difficult position. I just feel bad. This isn’t what any expat signed up for. The sadness is palpable and it’s hard to know how this will ever end.
What precipitated this step back? Well we currently have 9 active “clusters” of covid. In a country where every case is traced and rooted out, this is not acceptable. The other 2 wrinkles are, some of the cases are the variant from India and a good amount of them are fully vaccinated (before you smugly think we are using a Chinese vaccine, we have only Pfizer and moderna available here). The good news is all the break through cases have been either Asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. The bad news is it’s looking like they might still be transmitting the disease. Ultimately it’s frustrating and hard to know how covid will be contained when it’s testing what is arguably the best contact tracing system in the world and the best vaccines in the world. A few weeks ago it was looking possible that Asia would start loosening its border restrictions, but India is a setback for not only them, but definitely Asia, if not the world. It makes me happy to be heading back to my house with a yard, privacy and space. Singapore has definitely lulled us into a false sense of security and this has been a big wake up call that this is not going away soon.
Happily though, life keeps moving forward. Avery’s swim and taekwondo were unaffected by the restrictions. Sadly, Ella’s art class is canceled for now and Liam’s soccer matches are on hold. Oddly, Liam is heading to Universal Studios today with a friend and that seems a go. The pool remains open and most importantly, school looks to be ok to remain open through the end of the year on June 10th. So while we will try to live a little smaller for now, we will keep on living our lives.
Yesterday we said goodbye to Janeth. I haven’t really written about Janeth here, because it’s difficult to explain “helper culture”. Now that I’m coming out the other side of my yearlong experiment, let me see if I can try to capture the experience.
Janeth has been our family’s foreign domestic worker for the past year. I hired her at the end of February 2020 and she started with us the first week of our lockdown, last April. Janeth is 38 years old and originally from the Isabela province in the Philippines. She has one grown daughter who works in South Korea. Her salary here in Singapore helps to support her family farm. They grow bananas and pineapples. She’s very proud of the support she has been able to provide by working abroad. Janeth has worked in Singapore for about 8 years. We were her 3rd expat family. Prior to working in Singapore, janeth worked as a aid in a school in the Middle East. Janeth lived with us for the past year (most homes in Singapore have a small space for the helper to live, though some share a room with a child or even sleep in a storage closet). We paid Janeth S$800 a month salary, provided for all her food/toiletries and gave her an extra S$50 a month to use on her day off. We pay the Singapore government a S$300 levy each month for her employment (expats pay significantly more than locals for the levy). FDW’s work everyday except Sunday and public holidays. For our family, Janeth cleaned, did laundry, cooked dinner, and did some of the grocery shopping.
How does employing a helper work? Having household help is VERY common in Asia. In some countries they are live in (like Singapore) and some they can live out. Singapore has very strict immigration laws. If you are not a citizen (or permanent resident), your immigration status is depend at on your employment. For example, our family is “sponsored” by Ryan’s company. All 5 of us are tied to his employment pass. If he were to lose his job, we would have 30 days for him to either find a new job, or to leave Singapore. In Janeth’s case, I am her Employer. Her ability to remain in Singapore is my responsibility until the end of her 2 year contract, at which time she can extend the contract, finish with our family and find a new employer or go home. Under her contract we are responsible for all her care (including medical). We have insurance, but it is catastrophic in nature. She is required to have medical checkups 2 times a year where they check for pregnancy, STD’s and tuberculosis. If any of these are found, she would be immediately deported. Either of us can end the contract before 2 years (as we did) but they must give 4 weeks notice (this can be as short as 2 weeks in some contracts). In that time if janeth cannot find new employment, it is our responsibility to deport her or sign her over to an employment agency. In Singapore your helper is required to live with you to prevent them from living in improper circumstances. They are also forbidden from being employed in any other way (no side jobs). If caught, they can be deported. While Singapore has been trying to make the terms of employment more equal between the FDW and the employer, inevitably the employer has more control of the situation. Because their employment is “invisible” they are often exploited (working too many hours, poor living conditions, not provided enough food). While it is good for stability to work for a local family, they like to work for expats as we typically pay more for less work and more freedoms. Singaporeans often accuse expats of “spoiling” the market. This accusation is not completely false…
Why does Singapore have helpers? There has always been domestic help in some capacity in Singapore. When the Chinese came, they brought their “amah’s” with them. Also, Malaysian women were also frequently employed as domestic help. But after WWII and Singapore’s independence, most domestic tasks had fallen back on wives, mothers and grandmothers and remained that way until 1978. In 1978, Singapore, in an effort to have more women enter the work force, created the existing “maid scheme”. They began importing workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia. As of 2017, 59% of eligible Singaporean women participated in the workforce (the US is about 57%). In December 2020, there were approximately 240,000 foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore.
How do I feel about helpers now? I’d say I’m just as confused about it as I was a year ago when we started this journey. Some days I think employing Janeth was my biggest regret of our time here. But I don’t like feeling that way. I like to look at it as a lesson learned.
Don’t get me wrong, having someone to take care of all your household tasks is amazing. As another woman I met here said: when people ask her what it’s like having a helper, she responds, “it’s like being my husband”. What does she mean? Having a helper is a bit like having your very own wife. Can’t make the bus pickup? Send your helper! Want to go out with the girls? No need to double check if the husband can cover, you have a helper! No time to stop at the store? Helper!
So what’s the downside, that all sounds pretty great, right?!? Well, it all depends on your helper. These are woman that have left their home, families and children not 💯 by choice. Many of them have had traumatic childhoods. Their home countries don’t have suitable employment for their populations, so their solution is to export their people. Many helpers take great pride in what their money is able to do at home. They buy land, build homes and educate their children. But many also end up divorced, lonely and feeling used by those they love. This is a career choice of last resort. Their mental state generally reflects this. Add COVID-19 to the equation and you get the idea.
On a day to day level, my biggest frustration was the lack of initiative Janeth showed. She had to be told VERY directly what to do. Helpers are trained to be this way. This is not an employment method I am comfortable with. I had thought when she told me she “loves to cook and is a very good cook” (also backed up by a reference) That she would take ownership of this, introduce us to a wider variety of Asian/Filipino food. Instead, we devolved into eating simple, basic meals day after day. Also, I mistakenly took an American attitude with her. “You get your work done, your time is your own” was my mantra. Well, there’s a reason that is not the norm here. More and more time was taken and less and lass work was completed. Most days she completed her tasks in about 2-3 hours, then had the rest of the day to herself. Naively, we thought she would want to take care of us and grow attached to us. While I know she did like us, I can’t help but feel she liked the easy life we provided more than us as people.
Finally, I think I have a fundamental issue with this being the solution to allow women to participate in the work force. While it does free you up to work (or be a “tai tai” in my case (a “tai tai” is a woman of means with no job and little responsibility)). My issue is it perpetuates the patriarchal society that is pervasive over the world, but very much here in Asia. Instead of trying to more equitably divide care giving tasks, it continues to ride on the backs of women. It just pushes the tasks down to a “lower class” of women, further exacerbating class divisions. Mentally, as a woman who gave up my career 13 years ago to care for my family, is that my only worth, a menial employee that caps out at $800 a month? That’s a tough one for me.
Maybe if we had hired a different helper, I would have a different assessment. And in Singapore, a VERY first world nation surrounded by emerging nations, of course this is the solution to getting women in the work force. But I naively hope that in the future there is a solution that doesn’t rely on the poverty of their third world neighbors.
I wish Janeth nothing but well with her new family. I hope they are lovely to her and give her the freedom to pursue her interests. I hope she gets home to visit her family soon… I hope they stay healthy. For good or bad, she has imprinted on our lives and will now always be a part of our Singapore chapter.
Considering last year we spent spring break during the circuit breaker, this year was a dream! Since we did the cruise just 2 weeks ago, we decided no staycations. We did find lots to do around town and had a lot of rest time. However, we’re starting to get restless to get off the little red dot…. Summers coming!
Life rolls on. I realized I haven’t written a generic post in a while. Our weeks are mundane (school and activities) punctuated by things of interest. Our grown up social life is definitely driven by food and restaurants. Last weekend we had a big week, 2 nights out in a row. Took me 3 days to recover! 9:30 has become my bedtime of choice. This weekend, the kids are busier but the grownups are more low key which is good. Here’s a little snapshot of the past week.
Friday we went over to a friends house to have dinner with the Fairfield county crew! We now have 2 families from Fairfield, 1 from Westport and 1 from Darien we are friends with. It was fun to get them all together and talk about home and Singapore. 2 of the families are new to Singapore since January and our friends Jim & Sally have been home twice now to see their kids. We realized Ryan and I were the only ones who haven’t been out of Singapore since before Covid and were the only ones who had never been swabbed for covid. We are really are sheltered…
This most recent weekend was low key. Friday night Liam and Avery had friends over and we had a proper American cook out (cheese burgers, corn, watermelon). Saturday Liam went for an epic sleepover birthday party (11am Saturday-5:30pm Sunday!). Saturday we had dinner by the pool with condo friends. Also on Saturday, Avery was awarded her yellow belt in taekwondo. We thought she was just going to get her yellow tape, so she was so excited to have earned her full belt ahead of time. She’s really taken to taekwondo. It’s wonderful to see a child love an activity so much. It was a fun weekend.
Last week I panic bought us a trip on the royal Caribbean “cruise to nowhere”. We leave Thursday the 25th and return the 29th. So excited to leave the island. Everyone we know who has done it, loved it, so hopefully we feel the same. The kids are so excited and it feels nice to have something to look forward to. Stay tuned for that post!
As an add-on to my last post, fancy food is is good here too! In contrast to hawker food, restaurant food is $$$$. But as with living in any large city, chefs take pride in their work and some of their creations are deliciously beautiful. Enjoy a few of my recent foodie adventures:
In December 2020, Singapore’s hawker culture was added to UNESCO representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Singapore had been lobbying for this since 2018. What does this mean? UNESCO is the United Nations Education, Scientific and cultural organization. A nation can nominate a a physical attraction (Singapore also has the Botanic Gardens as a world heritage site) or something of cultural significance. For reference, the USA has 24.
Recognition by UNESCO is a boon for tourism, but beyond that, it means the country is committing to the preservation of the world or cultural heritage. For Singapore, where the average age of a hawker stall owner is 59, they need to focus on how to encourage new generations to continue the tradition. This is a HUGE task in Singapore where it is a decidedly “high end culture”. Being a hawker stall owner and driving a Mercedes are a difficult mix… traditionally, tasks that are considered “menial” are outsourced to foreign workers. The trick for Singapore is to keep this tradition from being considered “menial” by the general population. Right now, with no tourists, they’re busy updating older hawker centers and making a big fuss in the press over chefs running stalls, people switching careers to being a hawker and families keeping the tradition alive. I have no doubt they will succeed.
But let’s take a step back…. what’s a hawker anyway? According to the Cambridge dictionary, it’s a noun meaning, “someone who sells goods informally in public places”. It’s important to know, Singapore is a nation of immigrants. In the early 1800’s, the British colonized Singapore and it became a bustling port city. This created a huge need for laborers. These workers came from Malaysia (the indigenous population), China, India and Indonesia primarily. These laborers lived in extremely cramped quarters and frequently had no access to a space to make food. This created the opportunity for some of the immigrants to cook and sell food, in the style of their home country. This was done primarily via carts or a “mobile kitchen” which was basically 2-4 buckets attached to a bamboo pole draped over the hawkers shoulders. These hawkers became integral to the city. Not only did they provide food, but they provided a link to home for many homesick laborers. People hawking their food in this way continued, essentially unchanged until Singapore’s independence in the 1960’s
Initially, young Singapore wanted to do away with the Hawkers. They were seen as a dirty nuisance. Singapore was on a mission to modernize its city to become a business hub for the world, not just Asia. They were moving their people out of the kampong and into modern public housing (HDBs). These HDB blocks needed something to “center” the community on. What better than a gathering place for the community than to eat together? The hawkers were slowly moved over the decades from the streets into “centers” and regulations were passed to ensure cleanliness (today you can see their rating displayed). Many physically in HDB blocks (these are the truly “local” experiences that most tourists never see) and some in “centers” (where you, tourist, will go). To this day, if you ate every meal at a local hawker center, it would be cheaper than buying the groceries and preparing the same meal yourself. It’s no wonder many Singaporeans (and expats) never use their kitchens!
In the US, we don’t do cheap food well. At home, I would only eat at the food court of a mall out of desperation. Eating “cheap food” in the US is equated with lower class and unhealthy. In Singapore, everyone eats “cheap” food. It can be healthy or unhealthy, but it’s almost always made with fresh ingredients, cooked to order. It crosses classes and cultures. Hawker food is everyday food. Restaurant food is for special occasion. Some western culture has creeped in. They have McDonald’s, but this is seen as separate from hawker food and has a different menu than what we are familiar with in the US.
In Singapore, I often frequent mall food courts (modified hawkers) and actual hawker centers. Some are overwhelming to me. But if you take your time, and know what you want to eat (this is so hard to choose!) it becomes easier. I try to eat lunch at hawkers as much as possible. My favorite is Tiong Bahru Market. It’s closest to my home, has a great wet market and food center. How does Singapore keep their food so delicious and cheap? Hawkers exist on volume. Each stall really only makes 1 dish (there might be variations, but the foundation is the same). This enables them to crank out many dishes quickly and keeps their food supply costs low. It’s very common to see someone getting their lunch and food for “take away” for dinner. If you ride the MRT or bus at evening rush hour, many riders will be carrying their dinner home.
When we return home, I think this is what I will miss the most. Food can be culture and I am so happy Singapore is committed to preserving theirs.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the fall of Singapore to the Japanese “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”
15-Feb 1942 was the day that the British formally surrendered Singapore to the Japanese after a week of intense fighting. The British had colonized Singapore since 1819 and felt themselves to be invincible. They thought the Japanese military to be inferior. But they also knew they were under supplied and had no backup. The British had sent communication to that effect prior to the battle of Singapore that had been intercepted by the Japanese. So the Japanese also knew that the British were vulnerable to attack.
Why did the Japanese want tiny Singapore? For the same reason it had been invaded and colonized for 100’s of years. It’s strategic position at the end of the Malaysian peninsula allows access control between India and the South China Sea. It also allowed access to oil rich Borneo and Java, which is something the Japanese desperately needed to feed their war machine.
The Japanese basically outwitted the British. They made them believe they would attack from the north east (up near Changi airport) but instead sent most of their troops into the jungles of the north west (near Taus). They were able to drive the British south and overtake the reservoir water supply. On Feb 15th, the British formally surrendered. Lieutenant-General Percival and his troops were made to March from Fort Canning to the Ford Factory in Bukit Timah where General Yamashita only would accept unconditional surrender. Percival and the remaining troops (British, Australian and Indian) were taken to a POW camp in Changi.
The Japanese used a process of “Japanisation” on Singapore. Singapore was renamed “Soyonan-to” which means “light of the South Island”. The language and currency were changed to Japanese. Food and provisions were strictly rationed. The Kempeitai (Japanese police) committed many atrocities to the people of Singapore. Most notably the policy of “Sook Ching” which means “purging through purification”. People of Chinese descent were deemed hostile to the empire of Japan. Male citizens, primarily of ages 18-55 of Chinese descent were routinely rounded up and massacred. It is estimated that between 25,000-55,000 people in Singapore and nearby in Malaya were killed in this way. This included Chinese and anyone seen as “sympathizers”. I have also recently learned of the practice the Japanese military had of taking “comfort women” from areas of their occupation. These were women that were forcibly taken and held captive (sometimes they were told that money was being sent to their families, it wasn’t) to attend to the Japanese military men’s “needs”. They were raped for years on end. For those that survived, when they were returned to their families, they were most commonly turned out as to not bring shame to them.
This was a very dark period in Singapore’s history and has visibly shaped many of the decisions that Singapore makes as a nation. February 15th was declared “Total Defense Day” in 1984 to commemorate the nations Total Defense Strategy. The day is meant to remind Singaporeans of what could happen if they cannot defend themselves, and to strengthen their resolve to keep Singapore safe, secure and independent. At 6:20 pm (the official time of the surrender) the island wide public warning system sounds as a reminder.
There are 6 pillars to Singapore’s Total Defense Strategy. Military, civil, economic, social, digital and psychological defenses. Each person living in Singapore has a role to play in the defense. There are posters and “themes”. The current theme is “together we keep Singapore strong”. Living here through COVID-19 were are seeing this strategy play out in real time, DORSCON Orange and #SGUnited are just a few examples.
Growing up in the US, we learn western centric history. A part of me feels cheated on this. Everyday I feel like I learn something new or from a different perspective here. This year, Avery is learning Singaporean history. She knows the “3 great leaders” of Singapore (Sang Nila Utama, Stamford Raffles and Lee Kwan Yew). I’m sure she missed something at home. But I know she will have a lifetime to learn her Connecticut’s and US history. Here’s to hoping a little Singaporean history imprints on us all.
Liam has turned 11! He’s officially celebrated 2 birthdays in Singapore. This year, having a Tuesday birthday, made for underwhelming celebrations on the day of. But he had blueberry muffins for breakfast, cupcakes with his class at school and a dinner celebration at home. This weekend we will take Liam and 3 friends to HydroDash, followed by dinner then Magical Shores which is an interactive light show on the beach in Sentosa. I hope it will be a fun day for him.
When I reflect on Liam over the past year, I can really see how much he has grown both physically but more as a person. He’s not a little kid anymore and he’s trying to figure out how to “be” in the world. He still will sometimes “play” but I am seeing those days slipping away. He is both our easiest and most difficult child. What do I mean? Liam’s by nature, “happy go lucky”. When he’s with you, he’s always engaged and excited for a new adventure or challenge. I can see that he feels an immense responsibility to be my partner in adventure, even when no one else wants to. For that, I’m so grateful to my little buddy. He’s always interested in trying new things and this past year, he’s started trying his hand at cooking and baking. The interesting thing is, he comes at it in a completely different way than I do. I am a “recipe reader”. I follow directions to the letter. But I am ultimately not a very creative or original cook or baker. Liam on the other hand wants to “make his own recipe”. He spent days trying to make a perfect mug cake on his own (even with me telling him it would take only seconds to find a recipe online!), made homemade croissants (that one was tough and the bakery croissants are so good) and is now in a homemade pasta phase (which we fully support, so tasty!). I hope he sticks with it as it’s so fun to watch him figure out new things.
My other reflection on Liam is just how amazingly flexible he is. I’ve taken to calling him my desert island kid. Meaning, you could plunk him on a desert island and he would not only survive, but he would probably build a hut and a boat and be drinking from a coconut. Liam makes friends where ever he goes and makes the best of each day. It’s truly a gift to be this way and I hope he never loses this!
He also loves both of his sisters deeply. I know he feels an immense responsibility to “take care” of them both. I’m not sure exactly why but it is a wonderful thing to see. He’s their biggest champion and friend when they need it most. When Ella was struggling when we first moved here, he would cry worrying that she hated him. He couldn’t bare the idea of that. He never gave up on her. I hope that is the mark of his true character.
How is he difficult? Mostly in the same ways he’s always been. He still has “trouble transitioning” to borrow a preschool phrase which is super annoying (“just one more minute, mom!”). And we’re working on keeping his natural confidence but making sure it doesn’t cross over into arrogance. We see him testing limits. He’s good at this and keeps us on our toes. We’re still one step ahead of him, but we’ll have to work hard to stay there.
I’m such a lucky mom to get to parent Liam. Even when he makes me CRAZY, it’s hard not to just laugh. I hope you always keep your inquisitive and kind spirit. You are a joy to watch grow. Happy birthday to my blueberry muffin. 💕
And what a year it’s been! Never in our wildest imaginations could we have imagined when we said yes to moving to Singapore 18 months ago, what this experience would look like. Ryan and I like to discuss if we still would have come here if we had known how things would turn out. Most days the answer is still yes. We have all grown from our experience here. I like to think we are better because of it. You learn so much more about a country/city by living in it versus just visiting. Singapore does many things right. They’ve learned from the harshness of their nations birth and early years and you see that knowledge gained in the policy decisions made today. They still have a long way to go. That’s kind of exciting. It’s interesting to watch them make decisions in the context of what will be the implications 5,10, 20, 50 years from now. Some of their choices fail but more of them succeed. Singaporeans are super proud of their little nation and they should be. I’m proud to have called the little red dot my home for the past year.
So here’s my reflection of the good and bad of living 10,000 miles away from home in Singapore.
– Easy city living. It’s super easy to live in an urban environment here. It’s clean and safe. Public transportation is world class and car services are easy to get and relatively inexpensive. Our children have a freedom here they won’t experience again until they are young adults in the US. it’s a gift that I’m so happy they were able to have for a short time. Singapore has also made city living easy by making bike paths and green space a priority. We are walking distance to the botanic gardens and I try to use my little folding bike any chance I get. These reminders that we live in the tropics/jungle are good for the soul.
– Schools here are fantastic. The local schools are so good that they make it almost impossible for “expat riff raff” to get in. There are ~50 international schools that are all excellent. We’ve learned “the best” in terms of education is extremely subjective and dependent on where you are coming from, when you’re going home and where you want your kids to go to college. This will be the hardest thing to leave when we move home. Stamford has not only educated our kids, but has provided them with a school “family” during these crazy covid days. They feel educated AND cared for. It’s amazing. They’ve made friends from all over the world. Their lives and by extension, our lives are all the richer for it. That is worth everything.
– THE FOOD. It cannot be overstated how amazing food is here. From a $3 plate of chicken rice to a $250 Michelin starred chefs menu, the bar here for food is HIGH. I get super annoyed if I eat a bad meal, there’s no excuse. Every cuisine in the world is available here. I’m slowly learning each individual Asian culture. What we eat at home when we eat “Asian” barely resembles the food here. It’s worth a trip to Singapore for the food alone.
– The diversity of cultures. Singapore does a wonderful job embracing their cultural and religious diversity. 55 years ago when they declared their independence from Malaysia it would have been very easy for them to become “Chinese”. But the ethnically Chinese leaders of Singapore were also immigrants on Malaysian soil who remembered what it was like to be “on the bottom” of society, as their ancestors were during Singapore’s colonial history. With that in mind they set about creating a country that embraces its diversity instead of fighting it. There are 4 national languages and no recognized national religion though Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu holidays are all observed. They fight hard against discrimination in any form. Are they perfect? Nope. But their efforts are admirable and many nations could learn from them. I’ve enjoyed learning as much as I can about Singapore’s history and culture. Many people who visit here think Singapore has no culture. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It has many and that is what makes it rich.
It can’t all be good, right? No pictures for the bad…
– It isn’t home. You can love a place, think it’s fantastic to live and still not feel it’s home. Life is very transient here, that coupled with covid restrictions has made it very hard to make meaningful friendships. I think we all feel lonely for family and deep friendships. We never anticipated being so cutoff from home. We may not have planned to go home for a visit while here, but we NEVER anticipated not having visitors. We had 4 visits planned before we left home. As each one of those passed without visitors, our homesickness grew. This has been very hard.
– living in a surveillance state. As such, there’s not much to write, other than it’s difficult when you have not been raised in it. That said, the conditioning that comes from this absolutely led to covid success here. So this is a decidedly mixed feeling for me.
– living through covid and the general political/societal upheaval in the US from here has been strange. Our experience is radically different. Some of our world views have been changed by living here. I worry relationships at home have been permanently damaged by our being here during all of this. While most days I feel lucky to be in the “gilded cage” of Singapore for this time, on dark days, I think it might have been better if we never knew there was another way and we had just been home. We’ve opened Pandora’s box and we can’t shut it now.
Where do we go from here? Well, we are coming home for good this summer. We always knew that 18 months was probably how long our time would be, and that is what it is. While I’m incredibly happy to be coming home, I’m also incredibly angry that we were cheated by covid out of the travel opportunity of a lifetime. Yes, that’s totally first world and selfish of me, but so be it. I’m also incredibly stressed about school for our kids at home. We’ve been so very lucky here. Beyond that, Ella is literally a different person than she was a year ago. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified to bring her home. But on the positive side, our children are amazingly resilient and in the end, I know we will figure it all out. So home we will head this summer, but before then we will try to make the most of our waning time here in Singapore.