Singapore celebrates its 57th year of independence this month and there is no better way to commemorate this special event than by sharing stories of fellow citizens and residents who love Singapore. This year, our National Day editorial series feature three citizens and residents of the Lion City, who chose to relocate and make Singapore home.
SG Lifestyle’s Features Writer, Angela May Tan, sat down to la kopi (translation: chat over coffee in Singlish) with 42 year old Chelsia Ho, Manager at a school, who spent a decade overseas, to understand why she decided to move her family back to Singapore for good.
SGLS: When did you leave Singapore? What were some of the challenges you faced when you first moved abroad? How did you cope?
Chelsia: I left Singapore in 2002 for San Francisco for my studies. I then moved to the Netherlands and the UK.
I am Singaporean and eating is our national pastime. So, I definitely had challenges finding authentic Singaporean food, such as Hainanese Chicken Rice overseas, especially when I get homesick. I missed Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Orh Luak, Satay and Hokkien Mee. I also missed having the option to walk out of my house for late night suppers as well as there was nothing open past midnight, unlike in Singapore. It was also not safe for women to walk alone on the streets at night, something I appreciate about Singapore when I first moved away.
Public transport (and sometimes the lack thereof) is another that needed getting used to. Trust me when I say that Singapore public transport system is super convenient. We can whine so much about bus or train delays but you’ll start appreciating it once you live overseas. I used to take public transport all the time before I left Singapore and even after I moved back. However, in the three countries I lived in, I had to get a car. The underground was convenient when we lived in London, but not when we moved to the suburbs.
Weather in all three countries were different and it was a huge adjustment. It was fun buying, layering and trying to look good in winter clothing in the beginning, but I found it such a hassle and chore to put on and remove multiple layers (especially in winter) in Europe.
Convenience of medical facilities or lack thereof overseas. In Singapore we are able to head to the GP for the smallest cold symptoms. I hardly fell ill in San Francisco but if I needed to see a doctor, the school health centre on campus was easily available. In the Netherlands and UK was where I faced a rude shock – no one walks in to a GP clinic. Only serious ailments are seen at the clinics, and only with appointments. Otherwise, paracetamol was the default prescription to get at the pharmacy. Giving birth to my two kids in the UK were unlike any pregnancy experience in Singapore. The midwife (and not a regular one) takes over from start till end. I only had checks once a trimester. No ultrasound, but measuring of belly size and listening to heartbeat. I could only go into the hospital for delivery when it was “time”.
SGLS: When and why did you return?
I moved back at towards the end of 2010 from the UK. At that time, Europe was showing signs of a recession, my ex-husband and I decided that Asia would be better place to move back to. We also felt it was better for the kids who were very young then, at 6 months and 2.5 years old.
SGLS: What did you miss most about Singapore when you were abroad.
Chelsia: Being alone and without family support especially when I had kids. It was definitely tough. I missed the food in Singapore most definitely. You don’t get the same thing overseas! Last but not least, Singaporean efficiency. Everything works here, such as our public transport system.
SGLS: What were the changes you’d noticed when you first returned?
Chelsia: Having been away for close to 10 years, coming back only for about two weeks each time for home leave, I did not really “see” the changes. It was only after moving back and having to assimilate back to a somewhat “unfamiliar” place, that I was shocked that the country I grew up in had changed so much, especially the landscape e.g., new buildings, new roads etc. I did feel quite lost.
Cost of living has also gone up. By this I am comparing a pack of nappies and formula milk in the UK versus Singapore. The difference is huge even after currency conversion. Childcare was free, if not heavily subsidised in the UK. Here, I paid close to a thousand each month. On the flip side, taxes here are much lower compared to the UK.
There was a lot of re-learning and adjustment from then and I think I am still trying to adjust 10 years after.
SGLS: What are your hopes and dreams for Singapore?
Chelsia: I hope that Singapore can be less competitive so that our children and children’s children get to experience a happy, carefree childhood.
I also hope that Singapore continues to be a safe and peaceful country where people from multiple races and faiths can live harmoniously together.
SGLS: Do you have a special message for Singapore this National Day?
Chelsia: Nothing sums this up better than the NDP (National Day Parade) song, Home. I reminisce about my growing up years and get emotional each time I hear it, especially when I was living overseas.
Interview by Angela May Tan, Features Editor & Writer