For some, leaving Singapore is either overwhelmingly sad or insanely exciting, but for me it's a mixed bag of emotions that make it a bitter-sweet departure.
I am a grown adult, a mother even, but I am constantly reminded that some of life’s big decisions are not mine to make. Leaving Singapore is one such decision. A change to my husband’s job sees us moving back to Sydney next month after five years in Singapore. And so, our life is taking a different turn as we head back to home soil.
With this move comes a steamy hotpot of emotions – excitement, sadness, trepidation, happiness, even fear. The phrase that springs to mind when I think about the polarity of my feelings is Yin and Yang. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is the idea that seemingly contrary forces may actually be complementary or interconnected, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.
For everything that I’ll miss about Singapore, there’s conversely something I’m excited about leaving behind. Or there’s something I’m excited about finding somewhere else. This is a complex, confusing time emotionally and I’m affectionately calling it my Yin and Yang Phase…
I’m excited to blend in to a crowd, to not be “too tall” as the jovial uncle at the Tiong Bahru hawker kindly informed me once. I’m excited for my kids to be one of many with curly hair, for them to be able to wander through a shopping centre without being patted on the head multiple times. I’m excited to go into a clothing shop and pull a size 14, hell a size 16 off the rack to actually try it on before buying it (rather than my current ritual of going online and buying exactly the same style in five different colours because I know it fits me).
But at the same time I know I’ll miss the feeling of being different, somehow novel. I’m not Singaporean and am not treated like one. While there can be the odd snub at being an expat, mostly we’re treated kindly by Singaporeans and sometimes even given special treatment – a wide-eyed grin when you reference something only long-term residents would know (“Uncle, don’t use PIE today…too busy, cut through Kheam Hock instead, lah”) or a lollipop for the kiddos from a kind aunty at the wet market.
I’m excited to go to the supermarket and do all of my shopping in one place. Meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, dry goods, chemical-free toiletries all at once! No longer will my week be littered with trips to various butchers, cake supply shops, online stores and supermarkets.
But then again, this finely-tuned routine brings structure to my week – sometimes I am at Holland Village and can meet a girlfriend for a cuppa before I buy my one-kilo bag of cheddar cheese, or I can take the kids to the playground at Huber’s after picking up the sausages they like.
I’m bloody ecstatic at the thought of a breeze whooshing through my home, to smell fresh, clean air and have sunlight flood the house. To have seasons – all four of them! I’m excited to dress the kids (especially the toddler) in cute warm coats and boots and ridiculous looking beanies that only a one-year old can get away with. I’m excited to put on enclosed shoes and to not need to change my bra and knickers every time I walk Camilla to school.
But I’ll desperately miss Singapore in all of her surprising, unbridled beauty. Walking to the park and spotting a bald eagle hunting for prey barely above the treeline. The most magnificent cracks of thunder I’ve ever heard (enough to scare a big burly mate of mine under his doona). And lush, untouched jungle mere minutes from urban hubs, so that we can still feel connected to nature. I suspect that I am woefully underestimating the irritation of putting several layers of clothing on each child in winter. For the last five years I’ve only had to chuck shorts and t-shirts or a flimsy summer dress on the kiddos every day of the year. Sometimes we even go out without shoes (mostly because I forget that the toddler now actually needs them).
I am hankering for mornings at the park with my oldest girlfriends and their kids, to have conversations where I can reference things from 20 years ago. For that embracing, oh-so-comfortable feeling of making jokes that hit exactly the right note and listening to stories that fill you with love. I’m frothing with excitement to drive to my parents’ house and hang out with my mum, my nan and sisters, talk rubbish and help mum do stuff on her computer. I can’t wait for the kids to just ‘be’ with their grandparents – not perform on FaceTime, read postcards from them or do the Great Singapore Tour when they come to visit.
But it makes me ache with sadness to think of the people I’m leaving behind. From my longest Singapore friends (whom I made at mother’s group at Mother & Child after the birth of my second child, Camilla) who keep me connected to ‘time’ as we’ve watched our children grow into amazing nearly-five year olds. To my Tanglin Park crew, our first condo where we met some of the most interesting, funny and inspiring people who will be lifelong friends. To the incidental, accidental friends who I bumped into along the way – at Gymboree (then stalked for a few weeks til I found her again) or at Tickle Tickle or the Botanic Gardens. To the phenomenal school mums who support me like sisters, make me laugh and enable my coffee addiction. To my work family who made me feel so welcome, so fast, who operate each day with such kindness and lightness. To the makeshift crew of women in my third child’s mother’s group – a collection of strangers who banded together to form a tight-knit group of friends who share stories and shoulders as we journey through motherhood (and womanhood) together.
I’m not sure if it’s motherhood, or my age, or my life stage, or Singapore, or a combination of all these things, but in my five years on the Red Dot I have been lucky enough to make friends with some of the coolest people on the planet (it’s verified by robust research). Kind, thoughtful, interesting, generous, smart, funny. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better bunch of women to have in my life. And I’m leaving them all behind and stepping back into a world that’s no longer familiar to me.
But I remind myself that this is the wonder of life. New journeys and experiences…just like when we arrived here, fresh-faced, five years ago. It’s where the richness is, right? Thrusting ourselves into unfamiliar territory and pushing ourselves to do things that lie beyond our comfort zone. And I’m not leaving Singapore behind…I’ll take every amazing memory with me and thank the stars for Whatsapp and just a two-hour time difference.
Top image: Kate Dimarco
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