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.
We left Singapore proper for a few hours! As silly as this sounds, for me, this was a huge mental lift. As it is increasingly looking like there will be no change in travel restrictions in the near future, I will take any little break I can get. So to exit 2020, we hopped a bum boat to Pulau Ubin.
Pulau Ubin is a group of islands in the Johor Strait between Singapore and Malaysia. It is a part of Singapore. originally, it was a group of 5 islands that have been connected over the years by bunds used for prawn farming. Historically the island has been used for fishing, farming and granite mining which has left behind some very pretty quarry lakes. Today the island is purposefully rustic, having one of the last remaining kampong villages. It is also home to chek Jawa wetlands area which is a beautiful wetland reserve. The island is traversed predominately by bicycle and has mountain biking trails for those interested (and that bring their own bike, I can’t imagine properly mountain biking on the rental bikes). A third of the island is not accessible by the public and is used for outward bound and police training. There are also 2 camping areas on the islands. Despite our love of camping at home, we are unanimous on agreeing that camping in the tropics is a bad idea.
While the day was hot and sweaty, filled with crabby kids and humorous exchanges in singlish, the overall assessment was it was a great adventure. We may do it again and go on a kayaking tour. We’ll see if we have the motivation for that trip… Happy New Year, here’s to a 2021 full of adventure.
I took some time today to list everything I’ve read in 2020. I truly felt like I hardly read anything this year, much to much time spent on my phone… I was surprised to find it was 24 books. As I don’t normally document what I’ve read (but I think I will going forward), I would guess I normally read 40-50 per year. None the less, I’m pretty pleased with my 24.
One of the best things I did this year was to join a book club. My book club in Singapore is through the friends of the museum and focuses on Asian authors. We’ve read an eclectic collection of books in 2020 and it has opened a world of new authors and topics up to me. My book club has only been meeting virtually since I joined, and was a bright spot during the lockdown for me. The women in my group are of a diverse background and are all very intelligent. I leave our monthly meeting feeling energized to read more and that I’ve learned something. It’s been a gift to be a part of this group and I look forward to meeting in person in 2020!
I’m putting together a 2021 want to read list. Leave me a comment if you have any suggestions. I’ve got a queue of about 6 books right now (2 I’m currently working on) and I’m happy to add to it!
This year was the kids first tropical Christmas (Ryan and I have both had a fair number of Florida Christmas’ so it didn’t feel quite a strange to us). Being so far from home and family, we tried to make a point to not duplicate what we do at home, but to embrace the differences. One big difference is Christmas here is it is by and large a commercial holiday. It both looks and feels that way. Coupled with the covid restrictions, there was no option to “pop” into a church service. Not having that religious element to the holiday was a bit sad to me, but for good or bad, I don’t think our kids noticed (or minded) that missing element this year.
I had never planned to spend the holiday in Singapore when we moved here. I had thought we would either be traveling or heading home for a visit. And even with covid being so unstable globally, we still did consider going home. It’s been a long year and we really miss everyone. But when we thought through all the details, it was too complicated with too much risk, and I think we’re all glad we chose to stay.
We have a teenager in our house. Our miracle, Ella turned thirteen on Thursday. I know that she felt very reluctant and a little sad to be a teenager. Ella’s not in a hurry to grow up and we don’t want to rush her! But reflecting on this past year, she’s grown both physically (5’3” at last measure and we can literally see her growing) but more important, mentally. Asking her to move to the other side of the world last year was a big ask, especially coming off a very difficult 5th grade year and tough middle school transition. She was in a very low place. We were very scared of how this move would go for her.
She’s gone from having almost daily panic attacks, to making new friends, losing friends, re-making friends by admitting to her own short comings and has been able to communicate her feelings to us in a clear and concise manor. She is unfailingly true to herself in a world that constantly asks girls to conform. I don’t know where she gets this strength of character from, but I hope she never loses it. She is truly a magnificent girl and we could not be more proud of her.
For her 13th birthday, all she wanted was to celebrate with us. She chose to go out for dinner (Indian) and have cupcakes that reminded her of her favorite fairy cake I made her (I think for her 9th birthday). So easy and though I wished she had wanted to include some friends, I understand that sometimes that adds a pressure to her that makes it not fun.
Full disclosure, Singapore’s been in full Christmas mode since mid October. Without any Halloween or thanksgiving blocker, they start early and go hard. When we packed to move here, I never envisioned us spending the actual holiday in Singapore. I only packed stockings. This meant a full procurement of holiday gear. Luckily, we’ve lived here long enough that I understand how Singapore works. I ordered all our Christmas decorations in October (ikea for the win again!). I went back to ikea this week to try to pick up a few more odds and ends. Sold out! I was also not interested in buying a live tree since 1. They are shipped an insane distance, 2. I can’t imagine they aren’t dead on arrival, 3. It must be a gecko condo and 4. They are so much $$$$$. So here’s our rundown of holiday activities to date:
Happy Early Hanukkah to all who celebrate and our thoughts and love are with everyone during this challenging holiday season 💕💕💕
Such a rollercoaster this 2020 has been. Lately, I’ve been feeling the sting of the covid world of 2020 acutely. If I’m honest, it was difficult to muster up the mental fortitude to celebrate Thanksgiving. But the reality is, there is much to be grateful for. Sometimes making a list helps. So here is mine, in honor of “American Thanksgiving” I’m grateful for:
My 3 not so little turkeys. Their flexibility and ability to make the best of everyday make me so proud.
My hardworking husband who has stretched himself so far and so thin this year. I see you and you are my ❤️
Our friends and family near and far who are only ever a FaceTime away.
Our new friends here who provide an ear and shoulder when needed most. We are in these strange trenches together and I am grateful.
For tennis. For the outlet it’s provided me and the new friendships.
The American club. The place I thought we’d never need has become a much needed second home of sorts. Because sometimes you just need a (beef) hot dog and some BBQ.
For Singapore. This little island is perfectly imperfect and has taught us the value of community over self. We will be forever indebted to this nation for creating a functioning oasis in a sea of chaos.
For school. Full time in person providing for our children’s physical, emotional and social needs. I will be forever grateful.
New food adventures. From hawkers to Michelin starred restaurants. Singapore, your food is unmatchable and I’ve been ruined forever in the best possible way.
For the new cultures, holidays and traditions we’ve been exposed to. The more you embrace differences, the richer your life becomes. a much needed life lesson for myself and one I wish everyone could experience.
Our celebration was our family, 2 of Ryan’s coworkers (American) and one of the co-workers wife and daughter. We had a lovely meal and talk. Food traditions are so important when missing home and family. 💕
One of the best things about living is Singapore is how they embrace their ethnically diverse population. This past weekend was the public holiday for Diwali. The kids were able to celebrate at school. The elementary kids typically dress up for these holidays and while I went to Tekka Center in little India and bought (what I thought) very cute clothes, both Liam and Avery were too timid to wear them. I think they felt a bit left out when they saw how many kids did dress up, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way…
What is Diwal/Deepavali and why are there 2 different names?
Diwali (English: /dɪˈwɑːliː/; Deepavali (IAST: dīpāvali) or Divali) is a festival of lights and one of the major festival celebrated mainly by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. The festival usually lasts five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika(between mid-October and mid-November).One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, with many other regional traditions connecting the holiday to Sita and Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Yama, Yami, Durga, Kali, Hanuman, Ganesha, Kubera, Dhanvantari, or Vishvakarman. Furthermore, it is, in some regions, a celebration of the day Lord Ramareturned to his kingdom Ayodhya with his wife Sitaand his brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana in Lanka and serving 14 years of exile. (From Wikipedia). Diwali is the term used in northern India and Deepavali is used in southern India/Sri Lanka.
We were very lucky (especially this year with our strict 5 person limit) to be invited over to our upstairs neighbors home to celebrate with them. Nupur made us an amazing meal. Nupur’s been a wonderful friend to me here and it was so generous of her to share their culture with us.
Above is the Australian Prime ministers Diwali greeting. I hope you will watch it. I found it very moving right now. I believe we all need a little Diwali in our lives right now!
In other news, this past week I finished up my first season with my WITS tennis team. Our team overall did pretty well especially considering how new to team tennis most of us are. I’m proud of my record (4 wins 2 losses) and was super proud of my finally win. Playing line 1 against the #1 team in our league, we defeated their top 2 players.
Thursday night, our team went out to celebrate our season at a craft gin distillery (Brass Lion Gin) Such a cool place. Not only is it the first distillery in Singapore, it’s also the brain child and run by a woman (Jamie Koh, who is a friend of one of my teammates). It gave me a while new appreciation for the distilling process and I was so impressed by Jamie’s level of detail. Such a wonderful experience with my wonderful tennis team.
Earlier on Thursday I had also gone up high tea at the Shangri La again. This time it was an Indian theme for Diwali. Tasty food and lovely company
Needless to say, on Thursday I was exhausted and very full. While all this has been fun, it’s also helped to take the edge off the constant feeling of the unknown. We have a few friends being repatriated soon and as it’s been very difficult under the covid restrictions to make friends, I’ve been very sad about this. But such is life as an expat…. it’s also been increasingly difficult to watch the US spiraling down the covid hole. We feel guilty as we continue to reap the rewards of a successful government response to this crisis and continue to have more freedoms and opportunities. At the end of this week, our first leisure travel bubble opens with Hong Kong. While I’m still dreaming of a Hong Kong Christmas, we are watching to see how it goes for a few weeks before investing what is a considerable amount of $$$ into a trip. But it gives me hope that our Asian bubble will be successful sooner rather than later. Perhaps we will still get to see a little more of Asia before our expat time is up…
In this swirling world of unknowns, I needed to focus my mind on something else, so today, you’re getting a book review. I promise to shortly return to food porn and Singapore sights updates….
Since moving to Singapore, I’ve discovered there is a whole world of literature by Asian authors that somehow don’t really make it to the US, or do make it, but receive little promotion. I feel like I fell down the rabbit hole with Alice. My new happy place is Kinokuniya, the enormous Japanese book store here. It’s like a Barnes and noble, a Japanese and a French bookstore rolled into one. Between that store and my Asian book club, my book selecting game has evolved in a wonderful way. Plus, in the same mall is a kiosk that that sells these delicious itty bitty donuts, so really that outing is a win-win.
My best discovery has been a science fiction trilogy by the author Liu Cixin. The series is titled “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” and the three books are; “The Three Body Problem” “The Dark Forest” and “Death’s End”. While the books were written over a decade ago, they were only recently translated into English and somehow reading it in the context of 2020 made the books feel prescient. They were also one of the rare experiences where the 3rd book was the best of the series (in my opinion). The series is Hugo award winning and currently being made into a tv series by the creators of Game of thrones (I feel cool in that I read it before this announcement). It is interestingly highly critical of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, but was never banned in China. It’s pretty technical sci-fi, but as with all great science fiction, it’s really about human behavior. Each of the 3 books feature different main characters, which I found interesting. While the Chinese names are a bit difficult for a western reader and the science is heavy, it’s worth the effort for the story.
For me, I know a book is good when I read it and it stays with me and I begin to see echos of the book in everyday life. Between covid and the election, of course I am seeing echos of a science fiction trilogy about the end of humanity everywhere.
I’ll leave it to you to read the books (or wait for the show, which I’m positive western creators will botch entirely), but 3 parts of the trilogy (one from each book) that I will describe as they are feeling very pertinent to the election season we are seemingly perpetually living in now. Don’t read on if you are taking my book recommendation and plan on reading, as some of these may be spoilers…
In the first book, one of the main characters, Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist, who has been persecuted and jailed by the CCP during the revolution, has discovered there is a way to communicate with the universe by amplifying a radio signal using the sun. She subsequently receives a communication from an alien race. In the communication is a warning from an alien pacifist to not respond to the message as her response will allow them to locate earth and invade it. Their home planet has become inhospitable and they are actively seeking a new home. The communication is clear, They will annihilated the human race if she responds. Wenjie alone has the choice to protect humanity or open it up to potential annihilation. She chooses to respond to the message and roll the dice with the alien race as her faith in humanity has crumbled. Wenjie, I feel you….
In the second book, humanity grapples with the knowledge of potential annihilation approximately 400 years in the future. The alien race has also dispatched a spying system (sophons) on the world that allow them to monitor activities on the earth, but not individual thoughts (CCP reference?). In this context, a world wide governing body (like the UN) tasks 4 individuals with figuring out how to defeat the aliens. They are called wallfacers. They can ask for unlimited resources from the UN. The only catch is, they can never reveal what they are doing to anyone. While 3 of them are expected selections (scientists, politicians…) the 4th is an unknown Chinese sociology professor (Luo Ji) whose selection baffles the world and Luo Ji himself. While the UN knows Luo Ji is important to the aliens, they don’t know why. While the other 3 wallfacers race around earth and space spending trillions of dollars and creating societal havoc, Luo Ji uses his wallfacer status to live in peace in an ideal location with his ideal wife and child. But a conversation he had long ago with Ye Wenji about cosmic sociology tugs at his mind. Eventually Luo Ji discovers the “dark forest” theory which in a nutshell is; in a universe with finite resources and ever expanding life, when a civilization discovers another civilization, their only recourse is to exterminate that civilization in order to attain their resources and continue expansion. In this view of the universe, if you are not the hunter, you will be hunted. A seriously dark theory that is a head scratcher for sure. Right now, it feels a little like we are living in a dark forest here on earth. Are Democrats and Republicans hunting each other? Are the US and Chinese superpowers? Has everyone in power read this book and taken in to heart? Maybe Ye Wenji was right, humanity isn’t worth saving after all…
Finally, in the action packed 3rd book (again, best of the awesome bunch) humanity is seemingly faced with divergent choices when starring down the barrel of their imminent destruction. Do they try to hide in the solar system from the sun’s destruction? Do they try to achieve light speed technology and escape the solar system? Or do they try to “hide” the solar system and essentially wave a white flag saying we are harmless and we promise to never try to leave? Each choice has societal and moral implications. Who gets to decide which is right? Can you be scientifically correct but morally wrong? Should those with wealth and power get to be the survivors? Does it matter? This is a super simplistic boiling down of a complex book, but in the end, it turns out it was never really a choice, and humanity should have been trying to do all three and why would humanity have the hubris to assume they know how a more advanced society would ultimately destroy a solar system anyway?
In the end, I’m really not smart enough to begin to understand all the complexities of these books. But I’m excited to have read them and to have them niggling on my mind. Ultimately, my take away from the three books is that in a universe filled with the limitless potential for death and destruction, there is at a fundamental level the basic building blocks of life that are constantly renewing, changing and expanding and that is something that even in our darkest days, should give us hope. That may not have been at all what the author was going for, but today, feeling down about covid life and the endless election, that is going to be mine. So thank you, Liu Cixin for that….