We chat to Australian-born artist Jennifer Lim, who's made Toa Payoh her adopted home and is loving family life here in Singapore...
After bringing you the life of tattooed girl-crush and all-round badass mum, Jana Yar, married to a local tattoo artist, we wanted more! More mums, more Singapore, more amazing women loving life with their kids and doing things their way.
After joining a print-making class in the HDB home-studio of Australian fine artist and print maker, Jennifer Lim, we fell in love with everything about her local life. Jennifer’s two adorable kiddos, six-year-old Sienna and three-year-old Louis, chatter away together in local accents, asking, “can?” and adding the occasional “lah!”, completely at home in Singapore. Despite her children’s knowledge of Mandarin (amongst other local languages), Jennifer’s Eurasian family stands out as expats in Toa Payoh Central, one of Singapore’s largest and most vibrant HDB residential ‘towns’ (check out the history and heritage trail of the area). But are they well-received by local residents? We spent a morning together in their local neighbourhood, and fell in love with everything about their life …
Tell us about your connection to Singapore…
My husband, Geoff Quong, and I grew up in Australia but we both wanted to connect with our Chinese heritage. I have relatives in Singapore, so we decided it would be a good base. Since moving here in 2012, we’ve enjoyed getting in touch with local history and culture, and watching my six-year-old daughter learn to interpret for us in Mandarin!
What are your favourite traditions to share with the kids?
My paternal grandmother was a nyonya from Singapore, but I didn’t appreciate the unique and eclectic nature of Peranakan culture until my training as a volunteer guide at the Peranakan Museum. I realised that my father’s love of particular foods was probably due to his mother’s influence. Thanks to my father, my daughter loves dried ikan bilis (anchovies), prata bread and nyonya kueh sweets!
I’m conscious that Peranakan culture is somewhat ‘endangered’, and make a special effort to help my children learn more about it. For example, I dress them up in sarong kebaya or batik clothing when I can, particularly at Chinese New Year and on Racial Harmony Day.
Tell us more about your life in Toa Payoh…
I live in Toa Payoh in a renovated HDB flat. We bought here a few years ago because we wanted an apartment large enough for my family and my art studio. We tend to stand out in this established neighbourhood, but we’ve made a lot of friends here and the shop aunties and uncles always have time to chat to myself and my children. Our five-minute walk to the childcare centre is always busy – we take the time to greet various ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ in their respective languages.
Our HDB area has a large green space, a small wetland regeneration project and canal bounded by the apartment blocks. When they’re not in the playground, the kids are chasing dragon flies and searching for gold fish in the ponds. It’s a safe and exciting place for children. After school, we might drop into our local market for some chicken wings, or catch the bus to Bishan or Novena.
What do you love the most about Singapore?
I love how most locals are comfortable with children. I’ve never forgotten the time I took my teething baby down to my local hawker centre in the middle of the night – it’s open 24 hours. Dressed in my pink nightie, I found noodles, tea and sympathy from shop-keepers, who didn’t appear surprised to see me or my little one.
Give us the inside story on your favourite places to eat, play, visit and gaze at in Singapore…
My children love the National Gallery Singapore or scampering through the gardens of the Malay Heritage Centre. We often visit the various batik shops around Arab Street, and sometimes head to Zam Zam to eat mutton Murtabak – unless I get talked into going to the nearby cat-filled Meow Cafe. The waterplay and sandpit area at Bishan Park are also a favourite, and it’s nice to eat local satay along the nearby river bank.
Your favourite Singapore memory?
I was amazed to discover several years ago that my Hokkien great-grandfather used to lived on Club Street. The shophouse is still there and is decorated with beautiful wall tiles popular at the turn of the century. He also donated a large sum to build a stunning ancestral hall on Cantonment Road, which is operated by the Lim Clan Association. I took my family there for a Chinese New Year dinner last year, and we were made to feel very welcome.
And your favourite Singapore find?
Whenever I visit the clothing boutique Patch Magic in Palais Renaissance, I feel transported back to my student days in Kyoto. I love owner Akiko Silva’s selection of Japanese clothes, accessories and recycled kimono outfits.
What have you got coming up that we need to know about or that our readers can participate in?
I run print making and linocut workshops for adults and parent-supervised children’s classes! If you can get a group of three to four kids (as young as four and up), plus an accompanying parent together, I can customise a class focusing on Peranakan prints which make beautiful Singaporean keepsakes! We can print on fabrics or paper – it’s up to you.
I’m also having a solo show at the Australian High Commission in Singapore early next year (2018). See the creative process behind my handmade prints and paintings, by subscribing to my mailing list or visit my website.
Feature image: Jennifer visiting her favourite Chinese vegetarian stall at the Toa Payoh hawkers market run by Mr. Koh Teng Seng & Mdm Chua Bee Heng. Jennifer and her children traditional Peranakan clothing makes the aunties and uncles smile.
Photography: Darissa Lee
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