Expat Life

One Year In Singapore: The Asia Adventure Begins

One Year In Singapore: The Asia Adventure Begins

As of yesterday, we’ve been living in Singapore for a full year now. It probably doesn’t feel that long for you seeing as I just wrote about our move to Singapore two months ago, and I’m still trying to figure out what it feels like for me. Without any seasons to speak of, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to mark the passage of time. It feels like we’re living in some sort of time warp out here where I can tell time is passing for everyone else when I see their pictures of snow and spring flowers, but for us it’s a bit like Groundhog Day where we just keep repeating the same day over and over again. It’s kind of alarming. Like, I know I’m supposed to know what month it is, but normally I don’t. (I seriously wake up every morning like, what year is it?) And so for the first time in a very long time, I think that maybe this year has passed slower than the ones before, which I am perfectly okay with because the years were flying by far too quickly there for awhile!

Singapore time warp aside, I think our days and weeks may be passing slower here because we are moving slower here, too. When we moved to London back in 2013, it was on the assumption that we’d live there for three years and then move back to Nashville, so knowing our time abroad was limited, we set out to make the most of it by traveling to as many places as we could realistically fit in our schedule and exploring London nearly every weekend in between. I am so proud of us for doing that and I wouldn’t change a thing, but when we were offered this move to Singapore, I knew that pace wasn’t one we could, or would even want to, keep up for another four years. And so we’ve slowed down a lot, and I’m actually enjoying it. We still travel and we still explore our own city (having at least one guest passing through Singapore every month keeps me from becoming too complacent about that), we just do both a lot less than we used to. Our busy travel lives have been replaced with actually-pretty-normal-if-you-can-call-expat-life-normal lives. But I’m getting ahead of myself. If this is a post about the past year, I should probably start at the beginning.

One Year In Singapore: The Asia Adventure Begins

With every expat assignment, there are three phases – the ‘Honeymoon Phase’ where everything is new and exciting and your host country is, like, the best place ever, the ‘I Love You Even Though You’re Not Perfect Phase’ where you will exist until (if ever) you reach the third phase, and the ‘I Never Want To See You Again Phase’ which is sort of self-explanatory. How long you stay in each phase and whether or not you ever reach the third phase depends entirely on you and your own experience.

For us, the honeymoon period in Singapore was significantly shorter than it was in London. Whether this was because we weren’t new expats this time and I’d already lived here previously, exhaustion from difficulties we faced early on, or because Singapore is just less magical-looking than London, I don’t know. Probably a combination of all of it, I guess. I do know we certainly arrived here with stars in our eyes. After three years in London, we were all desperate for a change of scenery (and weather) and Singapore with its sunshine and perpetually hot temperatures was exactly what we were looking for. From the minute we stepped off the airplane into that hot and humid jetway, I was like, yeah, I can dig this. (I realize I am probably the only one who enjoys Singapore’s weather this much, but when your natural body temperature is about two degrees below a normal human’s, you REALLY appreciate living in a place where you can leave your apartment without four layers of clothing on.) It was also super cool returning to somewhere I grew up and seeking out the things that felt familiar. (FYI – my old house is still here, chicken rice is still a thing, and I still don’t like the smell of durian.)

But from our first week, we began experiencing challenges unlike any our time in London had prepared us for. First, getting even simple “life stuff” set up here takes an eternity, at least for foreigners. Completely unprepared for it to take two months to get a bank account, we struggled to make the little cash we had brought with us last until we had access to our money again, which is not an easy task in the most expensive city in the world. And don’t even get me started on going months without a working iPhone. :) But those issues paled in comparison to others. Living abroad, we are accustomed to a certain level of teasing and tongue-in-cheek comments in regards to our nationality and now (unfortunately) our President, but we weren’t prepared to be denied tenancy in an apartment due to our race/nationality or for the various acts of unkindness we’ve been treated to by certain people who clearly wish we weren’t here. It’s been a wake-up call, for sure.

Luckily, the rest of the challenges we’ve come across over the past year have been far less stressful and more along the lines of general culture shock. The first was the expense of living here. My goodness, I thought London was bad, but Singapore is worse! I had never paid $15 for a zucchini until I moved here, which I hadn’t realized was something to be proud of until now. Food costs, if you like to cook for yourself and eat healthy, are astronomical. If you want to drive your own car, you practically have to be a millionaire. (Luckily, public transport is like the one thing in this country that’s super cheap!) And I have adapted to living life always covered in a layer of sweat because the AC is something we only use when we have guests over.

And then there is the weather. For most people, adapting to the humidity is a struggle, but the only thing I’ve had trouble adjusting to is the rain, or more accurately, the monsoons. These are not the steady, gentle rains of London. These rains come on quick and heavy – if you’ve felt a drop land on you, it’s already too late for you. In Singapore, it can go from not raining to sheets of water pouring down in .0005 seconds. When you get caught in these freak storms without your umbrella, it’s super fun to spend the rest of your day leaving little puddles of water behind everywhere you go.

One Year In Singapore: The Asia Adventure Begins

The kind of culture shock that makes the best stories, though, is the type that makes you feel really uncomfortable at the time, but is hilariously funny later. Like the fact that despite most people being able to speak English, sometimes it can still be a little difficult for me to understand them. Case in point – somehow, because of something I must have just said yes to because I didn’t understand the question, my AC service guy thinks I’m single. And since it took me so long to figure out (and because I always like to make life twice as hard as it needs to be), I now have to pretend I’m single every three months when he comes around to take care of our AC.

And I know it’s highly likely that I’m not funny in any culture, but I know with absolute certainty that I’m not funny in this one because when I make jokes…dead silence every time. As you can imagine, this is a huge confidence booster.

This next one I’m still trying to get a handle on, but if you’ve traveled much through Asia, you probably figured out pretty quickly that burping and other bodily noises are not disguised quite as well (or at all) here as they are in other cultures. Because I am still 12-years-old, I find this hysterical, like trying-so-hard-not-to-laugh-that-I-end-up-snorting hysterical. It happened recently that Lex and I were alone in an elevator with an enthusiastic belcher and our attempts at holding in our giggles were doomed from the start. (Because I am the most mature of role models, obviously.)

Oh, this country – it’s irritating at times, but man if I don’t still love it. We’re a year into this thing now and feeling quite settled and happy. Lexie’s school is amazing, Cory enjoys his new job, and I am really grateful to have found a couple of charities I can volunteer for and still have time to keep up with my ridiculous amount of hobbies (including this blog). I feel incredibly safe living here. I mean, bad things can happen anywhere, but I do worry a lot less about our safety in an orderly place like Singapore. And then there’s the food. I love all the Asian food. (But unfortunately it doesn’t always love me. For instance, I’m up writing this at 2am because I thought fried noodles with chilies was a good idea for dinner. It clearly wasn’t, but that won’t stop me from having it again next week.) And, of course, I am loving our new travel options. I’ve been to most of the countries in SE Asia already, but getting to see them all again as an adult is such an amazing gift. I have so many plans and so many places I’d like to see, and if we even get to see and do half of them over the next three years, I’ll leave Singapore a happy girl. These years will be the last that our little family lives and travels together full-time, so I hope to make them as memorable as possible!

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  • Oh wow, I can’t believe that you’ve been living there a year already! I remember reading your post announcing that you were going to be moving over there.
    I’m glad you’re enjoying it over there, but I can’t believe how different the culture is over there! Like $15 for a courgette?! That’s crazy. But I’m totally with you with the burping in public thing, I’d be trying not to laugh so hard too haha!
    xo April

    • So many fresh fruits and vegetables cost triple or more what ‘m used to paying simply because they have to be flown so far (Singapore doesn’t have the space to grow anything) and then there are import taxes on everything. We’ve had to learn to eat a little differently – like skipping the courgettes and buying Asian-grown veggies instead (like bok choy). It’s been fun, actually, but sometimes I do miss my favorite dishes!

  • Really loved this re-cap, Sarah! Full of the good (so much good about Singapore life!) and the bad… I couldn’t believe that story about being denied tenancy!! For us here, our nationality has actually got us OUT of sticky situations for being from a “trustworthy country”. What a shock to have experienced it from the other side. And ohhh yes, the Singapore monsoon rain. I have only been once (when I was a teenager and my dad worked there) but I clearly remember putting anything we had over our heads (even plastic shopping) bags when those drops started falling!

    • How does one decide which countries/nationalities are trustworthy or not? :) That is so good to hear that you’ve never been mistreated because of yours, though. We hadn’t either until Singapore (even counting all the places we’ve traveled), but thankfully it’s been a small few here who have been rude. It’s just hard not to let those experiences stick with you, you know?

      Ha! Yep, I’ve carried newspaper from the ground over my head to stay covered until I could get under an awning before! Anything will work in a pinch! :) So fun that you’ve been here before! Come back…I’ll show you around! :)

  • I definitely should have smuggled a few courgettes in for my visit!

  • Love, love, love this insight into your new(ish) expat home, Sarah! Well, one year still feels new to me, ha! I was pretty shocked and sad to hear about the unkindnesses you have experienced though … I thought Singaporeans would be very welcoming and accommodating, but thanks for writing with such openness and honesty. Loved this reflection on your first year!

    • One year still feels new to me, too! Thankfully, most people have been very welcoming. It’s just a few that haven’t, but it certainly surprised me as I thought the same as you. And it sort of blows my mind that denying someone tenancy on the basis of race or nationality is even allowed. Unfortunately I have heard that that happens quite often here to people of other nationalities as well. On the whole, though, Singapore is quite a nice place to live where everyone seems to get along pretty well. (Definitely more than I can say about the US!)