Final Days of Singapore

Warning: This will be a rambling post as I am experiencing mixed emotions. 

In less than a week, I will be leaving the urban jungle of Singapore and departing to the United States. After reading other expat blogs and talking to people who moved internationally, it’s comforting to know what I am experiencing is normal. The best advice I’ve received was, “This is normal for those facing a major life transition. Allow yourself the grace to simply experience those emotions. Don’t be afraid to feel.”  So I am giving this a try through blogging.

The chunky writing simply reflects the chunks of thoughts. It’s not fluid as my usual writing. And please remember: it’s not your job to fix me. You are not that great. You have the chance to get into my mind and “listen” without judgment. Otherwise, don’t  evenbother reading the rest of my words. I can’t stand know-it-alls who have the answers to everything, including situations they have never been in, never experienced, and simply have no knowledge of.

When it comes to emotions, I think we are living in such a hypocritical culture. In the Western World, it’s all about being real and being yourself. In reality, the one individual can be real and honest but others around them cannot.  In the Eastern hemisphere, it’s a saving face culture of sweeping things under the carpet and stubborn denial. Neither approaches solve the problem or deal with the reality of human experience. Both cultures do have something in common. The moment a person shows his or her real human side, there’s constant judgment and either shutting a person down or kicking someone who has already fallen down.

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There will be many things I will miss about Singapore. One of it is the Kopi-C and Kaya Toast that I got into while here. It’s the local coffeeshops in Singapore and Malaysia. They have coffee and local snacks. They have sets like a coffee with toast and soft boiled eggs. I remember when I first looked at the menu and did not know the difference between kopi, kopi-o and kopi-c, teh etc. I didn’t know about this little guide through Expat Life online.

When I was new to Singapore, I saw a local coffee shop. I randomly picked kopi and wanted to see what it was. I assumed kopi would be plain coffee. So I asked for kopi with milk and sugar. The aunty understood what I meant and I wasn’t disappointed. Eventually, I learned the menu definitions. My favorite is kopi-c with kaya toast. A nice cup of coffee from the Kopitiam or hawker is only a couple of bucks.

It cracks me up when Starbucks is overpriced and still the same mediocre coffee. (Someone please don’t tell Miriam this!)

I saw little adventures in exploring Singapore through the simplest things. I enjoyed the experience of the wet market, the kopithiam, Chinatown, Sentosa, Chili Crab, meeting new people from all over the world and Singaporeans. My horizons are broadened.

Here’s the hawkers . . .

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Good things always come to an end. That could also mean it’s time for another season of life. I simply cannot teach anymore due to an illness. I cannot handle the constant stress. It’s both physically and emotionally draining. It’s time for me to switch careers. However, switching career as a foreigner in Singapore is challenging. I tried. It’s expensive to work at the entry-level. I love Singapore and would love to stay, but I have no reason to stay unless I marry a Singaporean. The funny thing is during the same week I made this comment, I ran into a Chinese-Singaporean uncle in the mrt who then told me after a short conversation, “You seem like a nice girl. I have a 22 year old son and he’s a good boy…” Sadly, he’s too young for me. This situation was worth a chuckle.

Moving to Singapore for an international experience was well worth it. Even for a short time, it’s nice to experience life abroad. Why be like everyone else?

Singapore in many ways reminded me of growing up in Dubai. There’s something about living in an international, big city. Yet, I often feel Singapore is more laid back and has a SE Asia feel compared to Dubai. It could also be that I grew tired of the lack of diversity. I can’t stand the fake friendly culture either. On the outside, people appear friendly but it only stays in the superficial level. About 20 years ago, it was a huge transition to move from cosmopolitan Dubai to a insular, suburb in the Pacific Northwest. To be fair, there are some positive characteristics of Portland. Even in Singapore, Portland is known for hipsterdom. And there’s the quirkiness of a man dressed as Darth Vader in a kilk, on a unicycle playing bagpipes. And if your curiosity is piqued, here’s more about Brian Kidd, the unipiper of Portland, Oregon.

Portland was where I came from. To be more accurate, the Rose City was my home base for the last 19 years. For a long time, I knew that I didn’t really belong in Portland and wanted to leave for a long time. It’s a great place to visit but I detest living there. I felt much happier getting out of Portland. My sister too wants to save up and eventually leave too. We chatted quite a bit about the taboo subject of how much we hated Portland. We both have different reasons. Anything that reminds me of a multicultural big city is where I am the happiest. I can’t stand the insular-minded culture that makes me feel that I’m suffocating.

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Wandering through Orchard on a late night. It’s 11 pm here.

The time has come for me to move on and explore another city. I didn’t come to Singapore to “find myself” or seek happiness. As a sensible, mature woman I know that happiness comes from within. Yet, life on this planet is so short. So why not venture out and gain unique experiences? Why be like everyone else? I am proud of the fact that I lived in 5 countries and traveled to many.

I am now at the point where I feel ready to settle down. I had a vision of a mythical plant that looks unique and out of a sci-fi film. It’s small and can fly in the air and float in the waters. It’s tough, adaptable, and very mobile. Then, the plant finds a suitable setting and starts to grow roots. The roots dig deep into the earth. The plant grows tall and flowers.

Maybe that is where I am in life. Most likely Boston could be where I dig my roots. I will only find out when I take the step. Or maybe Boston would be a short stay before the next adventure. It’s a step of faith to be open to receive.

While I am in this journey called life, certain circumstances came up. Health issues. Still dealing with the past issues of my life. A broken heart. Disillusionment. These circumstances pulled me out of my classroom. I am not to be teaching anymore. Being a go-getter, ambitious, goal-oriented person, I resented any idea remotely resembling a step back. Even a step back is unacceptable. I usually equate it to failure. And how wrong am I? Growing up among the typical Indian mentality, I was familiar with one narrow idea of what it means to live as a successful individual. I tried to follow this ideal only to be burned out. So here I am, another statistic. I am another burned out teacher. I am another woman burned out at the age of 30.

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Burn out and illness is probably what signaled me to re-evaluate my vision and path. I am probably not the only person in the world who is switching careers, leaving the past baggage behind, or rebelling against the societal expectations. Life happens no matter what stage or circumstance of life. During the last few days, I had my tearful moments and hopeful moments. I’m encouraged by the support of people around me.

My days in Singapore are short. I have already checked out all the major spots of Singapore, but there’s always more to explore such as Pulau Ubin island. There is always little adventures and escapes.

After prayer, seeking peace and direction, and acceptance of myself and dropping ambitions that weren’t for me gave me so much freedom.

4 thoughts on “Final Days of Singapore

  1. You’re leaving! You’ll definitely miss the toast (well, I did). I did end up buying one of those tall teapots and a sock but you know it’s never quite the same.

    I still get confused over the types and just take my “tea” as it comes, though – you’ve done well there. 🙂

  2. Yes, I learned to like the different rolls you get from Bread Talk and other local bakeries.

    I’m even thinking of the uncles who sell icecream sandwiches in their carts. There’s the wafer sandwich and then a literal icecream sandwich—icecream between two slices of bread.

    lolz. The first few times I just asked for kopi, milk and sugar or coffee with condensed milk till I learned 1 or two terms.

  3. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventures in Boston! I don’t know if I will go back to teaching either, though I’m staying open to the possibility — it was a lot of work to get that teaching license. But I did get headaches every day when teaching from the stress. So I’d probably prefer to do something else. Hope you end up with a fabulous writing/editing/publishing job.

  4. Thanks. Yes, I worked so hard and had great moments. I will miss some aspects of teaching. I have good stories but it was taking a toll on my health.

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