Expat Life

Zài Jiàn Singapore, and Hello Tennessee!

Zài Jiàn = Goodbye / See You Again in Mandarin

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Tennessee for a full month now, but my calendar is insisting it’s the truth. The days have been flying by, and our previous lives in Singapore are already beginning to feel more like a dream I had six weeks ago than real life, which means I should probably wrap up my last expat life post before the entire last two years completely fade from memory forever.

Truth be told, I’m pretty happy to be on the other side of this move now. The last couple of months we spent as residents of the Little Red Dot were what I can only describe as Utter Mayhem. Not only were we trying to complete the hundreds of tasks required of people who are moving back to their home country after several years abroad, but we were also attempting to “finish” Singapore at the same time. And by that I mean, visit every single corner of a country that feels quite small until you attempt to visit every single corner of it.

Over the course of eight weekends, we saw it all, from the big stuff we’d taken visitors to countless times before, but never properly photographed because we were too busy tour guiding …

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

… to the lesser known areas we’d never ventured into before, but Instagram told us we’d regret not visiting if we skipped them.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

I’m kidding, of course. But seriously, how pretty are these Peranakan shophouses? Skyscrapers and modern architecture are Singapore’s M.O. these days, but if you’re willing to hunt them out, there are still many remnants of “old Singapore” to be discovered here as well.

We made it a priority before we left to visit several of these older sights, as well as some of Singapore’s cultural districts we’d yet to explore and areas we’d put off visiting because they took too much time to reach. Even though it made our lives a little more chaotic to try to fit it all in, I’m certainly glad we did. I have no idea when we’ll make it around to Singapore again, and judging by how much the country changed in between our last visit ten years ago to now, I’m betting it’ll look quite a bit different by the next time we see it.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Besides handling the logistics of moving and touristing around Singapore on hyperspeed, we also had a 16th birthday party to plan.

I will say, one good thing about having your only child hit a milestone age in the midst of an overseas move is that you really don’t have any time to wax nostalgic about the swift passage of their childhood, mourn the imminent end of your role in said child’s life, or dwell on the fact that you, too, are 16 years older than you were 16 years ago. Instead, because you’ve become accustomed to living your life in a series of to-do lists and spreadsheets, you throw all of your energy into orchestrating the perfect Sweet Sixteen party.

We threw Lexie’s party a month before her actual birthday since it falls in mid-June after school ends and, in our case, families instantly scatter to all corners of the globe for the summer. We rented out the function room at our apartment, and Lex and her friends had free reign of that and the pool area for the whole evening. It was actually a fairly easy party to plan since Lex knew exactly what she wanted in regards to food, decorations, etc. The hardest part of the whole thing was getting those gigantic balloons home on the bus. It was pouring down rain and the buses were crowded, so you can imagine how happy everyone was to see us board with two enormous helium balloons.

Anyway, the whole balloon fiasco aside, I think the party turned out pretty great, but I can’t really tell you for sure since I wasn’t invited. Sigh. And so it begins.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee! Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Luckily, I was allowed to participate in the celebrations when Lexie’s actual birthday rolled around a month later.

At least three of our moves have taken place over Lexie’s birthday, so her one request was that we stay in Singapore for her birthday. And so we did. We spent her birthday weekend, which was our last in our apartment, spending time with friends, eating at her favorite spots, and celebrating with a cake we’d need to eat in two days because every girl deserves to blow out 16 candles on her birthday. For the first time in weeks, we weren’t rushing around with a to-do list hanging over our heads and it felt really good to take a break.

But, of course, come Monday, we were faced with an abrupt return to reality. In a span of 24 hours, our apartment went from looking like it usually does (except it was never again as clean as it was in this photo) …

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

… to looking more like this.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

We managed to sell a lot of our stuff before we moved, but everything else had to be packed up into three different groups – stuff coming with us in our suitcases, stuff coming via air shipment three weeks behind us, and stuff coming by sea which wouldn’t reach us until sometime mid-August.

If you’ve ever had to look at each and every item you own and consider just how much time you could live without it, then you’ll know how difficult a task this was. We still have another month to go before our sea shipment arrives and I can name at least ten things that are in it that would have been really handy to have these past few weeks.

But besides missorting a few key items, moving out went incredibly smoothly. We didn’t even have any trouble at handover with our landlord, which is something I always dread as a renter. I don’t think I’ll ever miss this apartment – it was, by far, the noisiest place I’ve ever lived – but I will surely miss this view …

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Living so high in the sky definitely has its perks. Although, it did take a while to get used to having my ears pop every time I went up or down the elevator. :)

After we moved out of our apartment, we still had two days to kill in Singapore before flying home, so we moved into the Intercontinental Hotel (which I’ll one day blog about because that hotel is truly something else) for a couple nights. I’d intended on using those days to relax by the pool or maybe sleep for more than two hours at a time, but my desire to make every last second we had in Singapore count took over, and we ended up taking advantage of our hotel’s perfect location to see everything one last time.

Lex and I spent our last evening in Singapore walking the full length of Orchard Road, stopping in the places that had become a large part of our daily lives, but will likely feel like strangers the next time we visit, if they’re even still there at all. We made it back to the hotel just in time to grab a couple hours of sleep (or in my case, a couple hours of HBO) before our 2am wake-up call.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

And just like that, our time in Singapore was over. We took our last taxi ride to Changi airport, ate lukewarm dumplings in the lounge one final time, and then boarded the first of three flights that would take us home. The picture above was taken just moments before we boarded, which is kind of cool since I also have a picture of us (here) right before we walked into Nashville’s airport the day we became expats five years ago. I’m proud to say my skills in dressing appropriately for long haul travel have improved since then – ha!

I always dread the journey between Tennessee and Singapore (it takes around 26-27 hours, give or take a few), but for the first time ever I actually slept at least 1/3 of those hours which made the layovers and the hours spent hurtling through the sky at 500 mph infinitely easier. It figures I’d finally learn how to sleep on an airplane on the very last long haul journey of our expat lives. Apparently the key is just not to sleep at all the night before. Who knew?

We landed in Nashville just a half-day after we left Singapore, thanks to the time change, and after dropping our bags, went to grab some food from the place we’ve missed the most these past five years – Chickfila. :) (People are always curious what we miss the most. I’m only slightly embarrassed to tell you it’s American fast food.)

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee! Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

Our first two weeks back in Tennessee felt eerily similar to the first few weeks of both our overseas moves. We were living in a temporary apartment with only the belongings we could fit in our suitcases. Our mobile phones were useless unless we happened to be near WiFi. And in my case, I didn’t even have a car to drive. Plus, we were experiencing everything through the disorienting haze that is jet lag, which meant that most of our days ended around 2pm and then began again in the middle of the night. But the one thing that made this move feel so much like the others was that everything we did felt exciting. And I do mean everything.

I swear, you’ve never seen happier people in Walmart than us our first day back. We were practically running through the store, gleefully tossing products we haven’t been able to get for the past five years into our cart and exclaiming over and over again how cheap and how big everything was. (If you can look past my terribly cheesy grin, you’ll notice these cereal boxes are larger than my head, and I have a huge head.) The fact that we didn’t have to depend on our arm strength to get everything home was just another bonus.

We saw a few friends those first couple of weeks, but mostly we kept to ourselves, knowing full well that once we began seeing people and settling into our groove here, the novelty of moving back would begin to wear off and everything we were finding so exciting would become normal again. But we had to reenter the real world at some point, and so once the jet lag began to wear off, we started looking for a place to live (we’re pretty sure we’ve found one!) and reconnecting with all our old friends.

It’s been a month now, and except for still living in our temporary apartment without our things, we’re pretty well settled here again. As much as I enjoy moving to places I’ve never been before, there’s definitely something to be said for returning to a place you love. Speaking of that, this past weekend we made a mini-road trip to Memphis to see Cory’s dad and while we were there, we took the opportunity to revisit a few places we hadn’t been to in a while.

Zài Jiàn Singapore, And Hello Tennessee!

First, we took a walk through our old college campus, which I hadn’t been back to since I graduated 12 years ago. I had forgotten how pretty it was and found myself feeling quite proud of where I graduated from. And then, as if walking through our college memories weren’t a long enough journey down memory lane, we also made a special stop at our very first apartment – the one with the balding carpet I used to have to make sure Lexie didn’t eat, and the 70’s wallpaper that was peeling off the walls, and the one I will always, always have a special place in my heart for because it’s where our family began.

Although we’re not living in Memphis, being back in Tennessee at all feels like returning to where we started from. Except this time we’re a little older, a little smarter, and a lot more appreciative of all the things we took for granted when we lived here before. There’s no doubt in my mind this is where we’re supposed to be right now. It feels so good to be back.

I had planned to spend my spare time this summer writing about some of our past trips, but then I remembered that time in general is something you never have enough of when you’re moving from one continent to another, much less spare time. And so, here we are at the end of July and I’ve only managed to publish five posts this summer, including this one. At this rate, I will finally be caught up somewhere around the year 2030. Ha! I will have new travel posts going up next month, though, I promise!

Share this post:

  • Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi
    August 3, 2018 at 3:15 PM

    Welcome home lovely – I hope you’re much, much happier!

  • Reanna Seymour
    July 28, 2018 at 11:00 AM

    Singapore is definitely one of my favorite cities! I lived in a small Airbnb in Lavender and it was a breeze to go around. It’s just a matter of having the sense of adventure to actually walk around and find your way. I do regret booking a 3-day stay, I think I would’ve enjoyed more if I was there for over a week.

  • Tammy Chrzan
    July 25, 2018 at 8:16 PM

    When you said that you weren’t invited to your daughter’s 16th party, I had to chuckle. Just earlier I was in the grocery store check out line with Hannah and I put my arms around her and leaned in for a cheek kiss, but before I could get the kiss in, she pulled away and looked at me like “Do we look like we’re at home?!?!”… My DIL was with me and I was like… “OH the pain of not being needed anymore!!”… Unless something is on sale at Holister of course!

    You had an amazing view from your apartment! Wow! At night it must have been mesmerizing! So why was the apartment so noisey? Neighbors? Or just general city noise? But dang… that view!

    I looked at the photo you took 5 years ago… You haven’t aged one tiny bit. You look 25. And I’m glad I finally got to see the photos of you with your coveted Cap’n Crunch… I mean, cereal is all around the World, but not like we do it here, we know how to do SUGAR in the USA and Corn Syrup!!! IN Extra giant boxes!!

    I always seem to write a book when I visit your blog, but I get so excited when I read about travel journey’s! I know you will have many many more to share about! I look forward to your postings next month.
    Tammy x

    • Sarah Shumate
      July 26, 2018 at 9:38 AM

      I love when you leave me long comments! Especially when they include compliments. Haha. I assure you I look every bit of my 34 years. Low resolution cell phone photos hide all sorts of unwanted aging evidence. :)

      In reference to our apartment noise, all of the above. Noisy neighbors above and below, new condo construction across the street, cars racing at night, general city noise, and the people in the apartment next to us renovating for the last 6 months. It was never quiet, never.

      “Do we look like we’re at home?” – LOL. I think this is why parents always beg their children for grandchildren. We NEED small ones to snuggle and love on.

  • Elizabeth
    July 25, 2018 at 4:18 PM

    It is interesting catching this post about returning home! My husband and I are going back and forth about whether we’ll stay abroad (we’re actually talking about applying to jobs in Singapore) or head back to the US for a bit. I’m glad that it feels right for you!

    • Sarah Shumate
      July 25, 2018 at 6:00 PM

      How exciting! Good luck making your decision. I know it’s not easy being faced with the choice between moving back home or going somewhere new, but one thing that helped us was keeping in mind that neither has to be permanent, unless you want it to be. Every move is open-ended.

      Also, if you end up in Singapore, feel free to email me anytime. I know all sorts of important things like who sells the best-tasting chicken and who to call when your AC starts leaking water through your light fixtures. :)

  • Jenn
    July 23, 2018 at 10:44 AM

    Welcome back! I’m glad things are going well for you guys so far!

  • Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista
    July 23, 2018 at 7:27 AM

    Loved reading about your closing of a chapter. What an amazing journey!