The day before I moved to Singapore a wise friend warned me “Just remember, the body always arrives before the soul”. At the time, I thought it was an odd piece of advice. After all, I was more than ready to embark on a new adventure and the only thing left to do was board my flight the next morning. But the truth is, it’s been a much longer journey than I expected to truly “arrive” in Singapore (and I don’t just mean the 20 hours of flying from my hometown of Vancouver).
I first visited Singapore when I was 18 years old after traveling around Southeast Asia for 3 months. I instantly fell in love with the colourful, shuttered shophouses, the rickshaws and incredible variety of food. Singapore was foreign enough to excite me yet the colonial traces were familiar enough to make me feel comfortable. After many more years of traveling the world and living in a few different cities, I found myself happily living in London and expected that after a few years I would be ready to return closer to home.
But when the time came I didn’t feel ready at all. Instead, I felt a bit of remorse; something tugged at my heartstrings and I knew deep down that I wasn’t ready to give up living abroad. I could see myself too easily slipping back into my former life, only traveling once a year, trading my regular adventure fixes for the daily grind. So when a job opportunity in Singapore was presented to me I jumped at the chance. I’d never imagined that I would live in Asia but once it became a possibility it instantly felt like the right choice. So I accepted the job offer, packed my bags and prepared for another international move. I was confident with my decision: I’d already been living abroad for a few years and felt reassured that I knew the expat routine.
But I over-estimated how easy the transition would be. London life had been easy adjustment: I had a safety net of a small group of friends already living there, there was no language barrier and the time difference to chat with family and friends back home was manageable. Singapore was different. Despite my enthusiasm to settle quickly, it still took months to start to feel like home and instead felt more like an extra long layover. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it: no language barrier, decent wifi, lots of friendly expats, clean and safe, warm weather all year, cheap foot massages… what’s not to love?
I’ve always been the “Type A/Over-planner/Life goal tracker” type. But my usual approach just wasn’t working in Singapore. Despite its reputation as the “golf course of Asia” and as an easy country for foreigners to settle in, I was forced to acknowledge that Singapore is very much a foreign country! So I decided to take a deep breath and embrace the uncertainty rather than try to dictate the terms.
Encounter one of Singapore’s notoriously long queues? Pull out my kindle to catch up on reading. Hazy weather? Put on a mask and get on with life. No friends? Join one of the million social clubs. Crazy humidity every day? Be thankful I can wear flip flops and use my pool all year. Can’t find the ingredients for my favourite recipe? Try a new dish (or in my case, a new restaurant) instead. Each weekend I wandered new neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru and Little India, took in the views of my new home from the top of Marina Bay Sands or Mount Faber, tasted chicken rice at a Hawker Food Centre, dodged monkeys and lizards while hiking through the MacRitchie Nature Reserve and enjoyed plenty of time relaxing by my condo pool.
But the most effective thing I did to make Singapore feel like home? I left. Over and over again. I travelled around Asia any chance I could get: Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Japan, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, China… so many incredible destinations are within easy reach of Singapore. Each time I left Singapore I began to appreciate the life I had started to build for myself a little bit more. And without warning, one day as my plane touched down at Changi airport I realised that it finally felt good to be “home”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still many aspects of Singapore life that I haven’t adjusted to yet ($35 cocktails anyone?). But for now, I’m happy that my soul has finally caught up to my body and I feel lucky to call Singapore “home”.