Thursday of this week will mark two years that we’ve been living in Singapore. Well, technically, it would have had we not moved back to Tennessee a week and a half ago. But still, two years minus a couple weeks still counts.
I am fully aware of just how little of our lives in Singapore I’ve shared on the blog. When we moved to London, I checked in all the time with updates about how we were adjusting, sharing stories about the amusing situations we often found ourselves in and complaining for the hundredth time about the UK’s regrettable lack of tumble dryers. Then we moved to Singapore and…crickets.
Granted, by the time we arrived in Singapore, I had pretty well decided I was over blogging. But when I changed my mind months later (as I always do when it comes to blogging) and started writing again, life updates and Singapore stories rarely featured here. This was mostly due to the fact that what felt more pressing to write about was a gigantic and continuously growing backlog of travels, but also, I just didn’t have all that much to say. Expat life just starts to feel like life at a certain point.
All the confusing, irritating, and hilarious things that happen when you first become an expat still happen five years later (especially if you’ve happened to move to another new country in that time), but they become so much a part of regular life that you hardly notice them anymore. And they have to, otherwise you’d never feel settled. And with our move to Singapore, settled was what we were looking for.
When we moved to London, we spent our first full year feeling a lot more like tourists than we did residents – nearly every weekend we were exploring somewhere new in the city, and when we weren’t doing that, we were traveling. It wasn’t until our second year that we slowed down, started settling in, and made London our home. In Singapore, we did exactly the opposite.
Originally intending to be in Singapore for four years, we spent our first year doing everything necessary to feel settled – finding work and other ways to get involved, making friends, spending time at home and entertaining the many visitors who came to see us – because we were in it for the long haul. (In expat terms, four years is practically permanent residency.) We wanted Singapore to feel like home as quickly as possible. Then, as these things tend to do, our plans changed. Four years changed to two and suddenly we were looking at moving back to the US a whole lot sooner than expected. Thus began a rush to do and see everything possible before we left, making our second year in Singapore eerily similar to our first in London. (I love it when things come full circle like that.)
Later this month when I (hopefully) have some time to sit down and gather my thoughts, I plan to share more about our last weeks in Singapore, but today, since I currently have no computer and am still feeling the effects of moving 13 hours into the past, I thought sharing a list of the things I loved and missed while we were in Singapore, like I did at the 6-month mark in London, would be a fun way to celebrate our two years in Singapore anniversary.
I started this list in a note on my phone about six months ago (which is why it’s written as if I’m still there) and kept adding to it anytime I thought of something interesting, but it’s still, of course, just a small representation of all the things I loved and missed. Like last time, these are in no particular order of importance, just in the order they came to mind!
The Things I Love
Never ever being cold. Like, seriously, never. Unless I step inside a mall or something. But if you’ve seen my fashion choices these past two years, you’ll know how infrequently that happens.
Red bean paste buns. I know, I know. They sound absolutely disgusting, particularly to American ears, but I cross my heart they’re the most delicious dessert you’ll eat in Singapore.
How cheap public transport is. It’s not like taking the bus or the tube in London was expensive, but in Singapore, the average bus journey costs under a dollar, so around 50 cents USD. Kind of hard to beat that!
Watching storms roll in from our 28th floor apartment. We can always see them coming long before they ever actually hit, and it’s a truly beautiful thing to see those heavy, dark clouds rolling over the cityscape, carrying what looks from far away like a fine mist beneath their bellies. The sound of the wind this high up is really something else as well.
Seasonal allergies don’t exist here. Or at least mine don’t anyway. Every single spring in Tennessee and summer in London, for a minimum of two weeks I’d be sporting red, puffy eyes and sneezing so many times people sitting near me on the bus would get up and move somewhere else. In Singapore, things bloom and die consistently throughout the year, but never all at once, sparing me from looking and feeling like I’ve contracted the plague just because I walked through a patch of daisies on the way to the grocery store.
Green tea scented toilet paper. Previously a firm supporter of basic, soft, but not too soft TP, when our store ran out one day, I was forced to buy the only thing left – green tea scented toilet paper – and I’ve never looked back. When in Asia, right?
The consistency of sunrise and sunset. Just like the seasons never change, neither do the sunrises and sunsets. At least not by more than 15 minutes anyway. This was a VERY welcome discovery after living in London where the days are 9 hours shorter in December than they are in June. And, as an added bonus for those of us whose bodies crave consistency, there’s also no daylight savings time in Singapore!
The low-maintenance lifestyle. Those questionable fashion choices I mentioned earlier? They don’t matter here. Nor does wearing makeup or having a good hair day because it’s so hot you’re only going to end up in a ponytail with all of your carefully applied makeup sweated off within ten minutes anyway. This sort of lifestyle suits me just fine because even at 34, I still have no idea how to dress myself, apply makeup, or wear my hair in anything other than a bun on top of my head.
Year-round Christmas movies on TV. I suppose it should come as no surprise that the country who puts their Christmas decorations up the first week of October also continuously runs holiday movies on their TV schedule throughout the year. Maybe it’s to make up for the fact that it never actually feels Christmasy in this country, but whatever the reason, if you find yourself craving a little holiday Hallmark sappiness in June, Singapore has you covered!
Outdoor hawker centers. Laid-back, informal, and full of the country’s best food, nothing beats eating a meal at one of Singapore’s outdoor hawker centers. That is, if you don’t mind sitting on a plastic stool and eating with questionably clean utensils. But hey, the best things in life are always a little risky, right?
Chatting with old Singaporeans. I mean, young people are cool, too, of course, but the older people here are especially fun because it’s almost like they’ve just been waiting for someone to tell their story to. And I’m not just talking about taxi drivers and other people you’d expect to have conversations with during whatever time you spent together, I’ve had unexpectedly long conversations with old people I’ve simply passed on the sidewalk or shared a sink with in the bathroom. These chats are so wonderfully bizarre every time that I find myself disappointed when the person sitting next to me at the bus stop completely ignores me.
The nature reserves. Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay – these are places worth visiting, for sure, but the real beauty of Singapore is found in its nature reserves. Despite the island being almost entirely taken over by high-rises, there are still lots of places that have been preserved in their natural state, and like the parks in London, they are my favorite place to go when living in the city gets too overwhelming.
The Things I Miss
Seasons. Okay, I know I said I liked not having to deal with seasonal allergies, but if the price to pay for that is having no seasons at all, I’d rather have the allergies. I miss bonfires in the fall, the delicious, crisp air of winter, the joy of discovering the first yellow daffodils in spring, and well, okay, I don’t miss summer because I’ve been living in it for two years now, but I do miss its arrival and the promise it brings of lazier days and cookouts with friends.
Living somewhere quiet. We live next to a new condo construction site that operates day and night. Our upstairs neighbors are heavyset vampires that like to rearrange furniture and continuously drop things on the floor from 10pm-3am every night. The people below us keep producing small humans at a rate that ensures we can always hear at least one person crying at any given time of day. And as if that weren’t enough, the owner of the apartment next to ours has been renovating for the past six months. It’s pretty safe to say I’ve completely forgotten what silence sounds like.
White rice without weevils in it. I can just about handle it when they’re dead, but when I open a new package and they’re still alive, I won’t be able to even think about eating rice again for at least a month.
Owning clothes that haven’t been bleached by the sun. That goes for all our possessions, really. Anything that sees the light of day in our apartment has faded drastically – every single book spine, pictures in frames, our bedspreads, even the couch. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t discover the effect the sun had on our clothes earlier. Now, everything in our closet (which has glass walls) has a vertical stripe of bleached color down the side that faces the window. It’s a good thing we don’t own anything nice, otherwise I wouldn’t find this quite as funny as I do.
Paying normal prices for fresh produce and meat, and having food stay fresh for more than a day. In America, if you paid $15 for a pint of strawberries, only to discover half of them had gone bad, you’d probably feel pretty cheated. In Singapore, that is how we buy strawberries. Fresh produce and meat in this country are shockingly expensive, and quite difficult to keep fresh as well. This means if I buy three avocados, I’ll almost certainly end up with at least one and half bad ones. (I almost gave fresh avocados their own section – that’s how much I miss them.) It makes paying such steep prices for food even more painful when you have to throw so much of it away.
Spiders that can’t jump. We don’t have it nearly as bad as our Australian neighbors down south, but the creepy crawlies in Singapore can still get pretty wicked, too. Case in point: jumping spiders. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the kind that never learned how to get airborne.
Being able to take a shower without waiting half an hour for the water to heat up first. In most homes in Singapore, water running into your bathroom isn’t heated until you tell it that it needs to be by pressing a button outside the bathroom. It took me nearly a year of cold/lukewarm showers to start remembering to hit that silly little button early enough to allow the water to heat up before I needed to get in!
Condiments other than chili sauce. Singaporeans sure do love their chili sauce. Order just about anything in this country, and it’ll come topped with chili sauce. (With 12 extra packets on the side.) Sweeter and much less spicy than the chili sauce we’re used to back home, I never quite adapted to its unusual flavor. If you ask for mustard or mayo here, though, be prepared to be met with a blank stare.
Being able to watch a whole TV series. We’re not big TV watchers, but occasionally I’ll find myself getting into something only to have it inexplicably stop airing one day. Gotta make more room for all those Christmas movies, I guess.
American grocery stores. They’re big, they’re logically laid out, and they generally stock their shelves with the same brands every week. Here, shelves are stocked with whatever brands the store was able to get a good deal on that week, which means if I find a brand of almond milk I like, I’m almost guaranteed to never see it again. And unlike America where there seems to be an endless supply of everything, it’s not unusual to arrive at the store here and discover they’re out of something basic like chicken. People like to knock Walmart, but I’ve never seen them run out of chicken.
Endless highways and wide open spaces. When I first moved here, someone warned me it would start to feel a little claustrophobic after awhile. Being the sort of person who actually enjoys small spaces, I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about feeling limited in Singapore, but they were right. There is just something about knowing you can’t hop in the car, roll the windows down, and drive in the same direction for three days straight that makes you miss it.
And because you probably thought you were going to see them feature somewhere on this list, I’d just like to note that it may have taken five years, but I no longer miss tumble dryers. It’s official, I’m a complete drying rack convert now. Expat life has changed me.