Life in the Lion City is good, on that we can all agree. But when your time's up and you've got to head 'home', what then?
I’m leaving Singapore. Soon. Like, three weeks soon. This crazy new world we’ve found ourselves in, with all its Covid-19 hecticness, has thrown something of a virus-shaped spanner in the works. It’s an uncertain time, and I’m not alone in my situation. And, while it will be nice to be back on familiar soil, I’m also anxious about leaving my life here in Singapore. The reason for leaving might be different from person to person – anything from redundancies to personal choice or even LOC changes – but some of the worries are the same. So am I doing the right thing leaving Singapore, especially when we’re still in the grip of a global pandemic?
It’s funny – I never wanted to come to Singapore. I was a trailing spouse, but a reluctant trailing spouse. (Side note: how vom-worthy is that expression?). I had a life in Sydney, a great circle of mum friends, tried-and-tested haunts, and a bulging book of freelance contacts. I knew what I was doing – I had a routine. Then my husband lost his job, and there was nothing else on the cards. Square one became the norm. The months ticked by; the mortgage payments still needed to be paid. My writing gigs alone weren’t enough to keep a roof over our heads, and we started to get a bit freaked out. And then a job offer came up. The kicker? It was in Singapore.
The field trip
We came for a week to suss the place out. Honestly? I cried every day for the first five days straight. Looking back, I was still in the hormonal churn and emotional burnout of being a mum to two under two. I was pretty delicate, and I was struggling. The last thing I needed right then was a huge, gut-wrenching change; stability was keeping my underlying anxiety in check. I really, really, didn’t want to have to start all over again, again. (We’d already moved from the UK to Australia eight years prior).
The outcome of that trip? I hated Singapore. The humidity killed me, the heat sapped every last ounce of energy I had (and, like most mums, I didn’t have stores of it to begin with). And… well… most of all, it just wasn’t home. And all I wanted at that fragile time of my life was home. I dug my heels in. I was so reluctant, and every day crossed off the calendar felt like one step closer to body and soul upheaval. For sure, it was an emotional time. But it was the right thing to do for my family and our fortunes, so I gritted my teeth and started packing.
Arriving in Singapore
The first couple of months here were, shall we say, challenging. Two days after we arrived, Husband had gone to work. I was left at home to look after the two dogs, two babies and unpack the fortress of boxes. That first day of being alone, the water tank in the kitchen burst. I had no credit on my phone, no contacts. Water was POURING from the ceiling, splashing off the electrics and was inches deep on the floor. I was frantically WhatsApping my husband (who was in a meeting, obviously) and ransacking boxes for all the spare towels we owned in a panicked fog. (Life lesson: make it one of your first priorities to find out where the stop tap is in your new home. And always make sure you have data on your phone!)
Eugh, it gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it, and those early days as a whole. But you know what? I adapted.
Getting to grips with a new life
I picked up a full-time job doing what I love (it had its moments, but don’t they all?). I met some wonderful people at work, round the condo pool… even at the doctor’s surgery while getting my son’s shots! And I even reunited with some truly amazing friends from my university days. We’re more than 11,000 kilometres and 15 years on from when we graduated (god, that makes me feel OLD), but picking up where we left off was a total game-changer.
Singapore is amazing for raising kids. It’s safe, clean and geared towards families. There’s so much to do here: indoor play centres, awesome parks, leisurely bike routes, top-notch attractions… the list goes on. Pandemic aside, there are so many travel opportunities on your doorstep, and the schools are world-class, too. And don’t get me started on the wonderful helpers. Having that freedom to enjoy date nights – hell, even date days! – again, to enjoy stress-free time with the kids, to enjoy time to be ‘me’… I’m so grateful for it.
Bursting the Singapore bubble
I can see why some expats don’t want to consider leaving Singapore; it’s a great life. But the bubble does burst for some people, whether it’s out of choice or out of their hands.
Me? I’m apprehensive. (For starters, the upcoming 14-day hotel quarantine is making me shudder!) I think Singapore has handled the pandemic brilliantly, and I’m at a point where I feel I’m in one of the safest countries out there. I see reports of cases in other countries blowing up, and multiple rounds of lockdown being enforced.
And the personal fears? I’m going back to no family support, to having to do everything on our own again, to job uncertainty for us both. Is ‘together time’ going to be a thing of the past? Will my relationship suffer when I become a ‘football widow’ again every weekend? Will I lose my identity without that time to be ‘me’, when I’m just Mum again? Am I going to get lost in all the noise?
The worry is there, but you know what I’ve learned about myself since being in Singapore? How resilient I am. How resilient all mothers are. I’ve flip-reversed my initial outlook and made the most out of this opportunity; I’ve embraced all the positives. I might not encourage change or welcome it, but I’ve learned I’m a goddamn pro at wrestling it and turning it to my advantage.
During our time here, I’ve armed myself with new skills, more confidence in my abilities. I’ve smashed the small talk and I’ve finally eradicated my imposter syndrome. Hand on heart, I can honestly say I’ve made the absolute most of this whole experience. And now that I’m leaving Singapore, I realise just how much I’ll miss it.
The ‘you’ in U-turn
Change can be good. Whether you’re leaving Singapore yourself to go ‘home’ or you’re reluctantly arriving, look for the sunshine. It’s scary, it’s different and you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, Queen Elsa style, into the unknown. But it’s just a new chapter of your life. And you are the one who’s writing it.
You are strong, you are capable. And my god, you are resilient. You can, and will, adapt. You’ve got this.
Top image: cottonbro from Pexels