Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dear Diary...of An Expat in Singapore

Over the years, this blog has received countless emails asking for advice on the disparate topics concerning life as an expat. And even though I am not an advice columnist, I have always enjoyed hearing from readers, recognizing many of their concerns as the ones I faced before starting my own expat journey, and trying to answer them to the best of my ability. I wanted to share some of the most poignant, right here on the blog, in the hope that other readers might find the words useful as well.

Dear Diary of An Expat in Singapore,

I am very worried about moving to Singapore with my husband and toddler. My husband says this is the chance of a lifetime. (We would be coming for his career.) But I'm not so sure. I will be leaving behind my family, friends, and my job. Basically everything I know and I will be alone with my two year old son. I've been reading your blog and it sounds like you have a wonderful life there. What do you think I should do?
Signed Jitters

Dear Jitters,

When I was ten, my parents took me out of the international school I had been attending and put me in a local Italian one. I went from being a straight A student to feeling like the dumbest student in the class because I didn't know how to read or write in Italian. All the things I loved about my old school, the amazing library where I would lose myself in books during lunchtime, the spelling bees, the poetry classes I loved, didn't exist in the new school. I felt like a misfit. I was miserable and started having headaches. The feeling of being thrown in the deep end and sense of insecurity stayed with me a long time. The only thing that made it bearable were my new classmates, intrigued by the new student, they rallied around me and helped me. That, and the feeling that I absolutely didn't want to fail at this new endeavor.

Jitters, I'm not going to lie, moving halfway across the world is not going to be easy.You are leaving behind a lot, almost everything that defines you. Some people would jump at the chance to re-invent themselves, but you are not one of them. You didn't say much about your job but I'm going to assume it's one that doesn't pay anywhere near your husband's but is something you love doing. Possibly something you got after a long, expensive liberal arts education. You are probably feeling something akin to bitterness at being 'asked' to give it all up but are having a hard time putting it into words without sounding petty or like a major downer.
Jitters, there is nothing more destabilizing to a marriage than having one spouse completely gung-ho about a decision that concerns the family, while the other spouse has grave misgivings. Except for maybe not saying anything at all until the resentment builds up to a boiling point. You need to talk to your husband before that point and share your doubts. Get him to promise he will be supportive and helpful and all that mumbo jumbo. Appreciate his best intentions but then realize that in reality there's not a lot he is actually going to do. And that's not because he doesn't love you but it's because he is going to be knee deep in a new job with new colleagues which most likely involves a lot of travel and long hours. The bottom line is you are going to be on your own...a lot, with a toddler.  Oh, he might bring his single, male colleague home for dinner on a Saturday night because that's what he thought you meant when you told him you wanted to see more people. (Try not to hold that one against him too much) but really your happiness and serenity is going to be up to you.
My best piece of advice is for you to travel light, come with an open mind, and a sense of humor. Surround yourself with people who are in a similar position as you: newly arrived expats with small children. Do not splurge on a babysitter to go out for late night drinks with that young, childless couple you just met by the pool. These are not your people. At least, not for the time being. Spend time getting to know that other frazzled looking mom at the playground. She may not be the one you envisioned being your bff but right now one hour with her will be more comforting and relaxing than ten with someone without children. And if her kid is slightly older than yours, that's a bonus. You'll get concrete tips on how to get your kid potty trained or how to eat veggies. Form a playgroup. Possibly over strong coffee. Next, get somebody to help you clean the house. Just because you left your low-paying job back at home editing articles, does not mean you want to suddenly start cleaning toilets. Find a nice preschool where you can drop your child off for a few hours a day, explore the city, look into volunteering, sign up to become a museum docent, maybe learn Mandarin. Slowly but surely, those jitters will disappear and one day, you will realize that your biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with geography...it's the discovery of your own self-reliance. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Man is his own star."

Best of luck, Diary of An Expat in Singapore

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thank You, Random Construction Site.

Thank you, random construction site for almost totally obstructing the view from our balcony. All that gorgeous greenery had actually gotten to be a drag. Who needs to see tropical vegetation outside when you can just switch on the National Geographic Channel. And it's so much more interesting to see another high rise condo. Not to mention, the added bonus of non stop drilling and hammering this past year...Let's just hope the neighbors are friendly.

"We remembered the elevator, right?"

Monday, January 12, 2015

There's No Place Like Carnegie...

Sometimes, it would be nice to close my eyes and just tap my heels, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to get to a place that is faraway. A place, for example, like New York City. I heard there was a sold out concert last night at Carnegie Hall. Well done, Julian!
"How do you get to Carnegie?" (photo creds Carolyn Youri)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Breakdown in Communication

When you have no idea what your child is saying... And they're not even a teenager.

"So basically, what you're saying is...you have a great mom?"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Eagle Has Landed

"That was a really good hug."
After a ten day (yes, that's right, ten day) school trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, Alexander is back to the great joy of his family (especially his sister). This is some of what he shared with us on the taxi ride home from the airport:
1) Thai food is good, but not as good when you have to make it yourself;
2) Spelling Alexander in sign language is not that hard;
3) Elephants are not as cuddly as you might think, actually they are quite leathery;
4) The real luxury about home is not having to prepare a bed and tent each night;
5) One can never pack enough cough strepsils or socks;
6) A head torch is fundamental. Extra batteries, even more so;
7) Organic farming, walking on stilts, water rafting and trekking with a GPS...all great. Caving (what with the spiders and all) not so much;
8) It's cold in them there mountains, "luckily I had that wooly handknit penguin hat you didn't want me to buy."
9) It's nice having a sister bake a 'welcome home' cake and keeping all Christmas activities on hold.
10) Shopping for souvenirs is fun. (I don't know how he found fuzzy sock slippers in a Thai night market, but the boy definitely knows me. I am typing this with a smile and very snug toes.)

"How do you say hi in Thai?"

"Now, let's see who's taller."

The Thai cook with his penguin hat on.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Questions That Could Arise in Italy

"Is this breakfast or lunch?"

"Should we have a different flavor every day?"

"Is that pigeon still following me?"

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Made in Italy

"I think my allergies are acting up..."

"No, I don't see the resemblance."

"What do you think about the dukan diet?"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Boiled Turkey in Paris

Happy Birthday, little bro!

Just like in the song, I went all the way to Paris to forget the past. I was 21 and everything that could have gone wrong, did. Then again, I was 21. When my little brother came to visit me, in late November, we walked all over the Marais, had banana splits at the Defense, chatted endlessly all over town. Julian took my mind off things, without even trying. I was staying with a French family who lived way out in the suburbs. On our way back home late that night, he commented on how dangerous the train ride was for someone traveling alone at night. When we got out at the small, deserted station and walked along the dark alleyways, he looked even more horrified. You've been doing this for two months? As I nodded, I remember thinking: "So?"
After we reached the house, we looked for the huge turkey my mother had given Julian to bring over so that we could have our own little Thanksgiving. But to our utter surprise, the turkey we hoped to roast for our delicious feast, was now in a huge pot, boiled beyond recognition. After a shocked silence, during which we wondered how anybody could even own such a big pot, we started laughing at the absurdity of it all. As quiet as humanly possible, so as not to wake up our kind, if clueless hosts, we laughed and laughed. I don't ever remember laughing so much. Not like that, barely breathing and with tears running down my eyes. It felt so good to laugh. And to know that it was still possible.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Missing School Holidays: Nostalgic or Masochistic? Your Call.

"Mom, can we check out the phone store later?"
Sometimes I find myself in a post-school holiday funk. I actually find myself missing my kids' school holidays. Not always (I'm not crazy). But there's something to be said about hanging out at a coffee shop with your kid, drinking over priced lattes and catching up on reading. Sometimes, I even get to hear what's really happening at school. Or I can finally get some help setting up my phone so that I can see the weather in the country I'm actually living in. The best part is I don't have to ask the conversation ender: "How was your day?" Because this is their day.

Alexander earning his keep on his day off from school.

If Proust's Madeleines...

If Proust's madeleines had cost as much as cherries cost in Singapore, he probably wouldn't have eaten as many and we wouldn't have that expression. Quel domage.
I especially love how it says 'offer' ends in a week. That's thoughtful. And caring. Especially since this price apparently saves you 24% from the usual price.
When calculating that each cherry costs more or less a dollar, be careful to not choke on the pit.