I left Singapore 10 years ago. I had no idea what would follow my decision to venture abroad. All I knew was that Singapore is too small a place for me to spend my entire life.
September 22, 2010: I arrived in Paris with a huge backpack and a suitcase packed to bursting point. With AB’s help, we lugged everything up seven flights of stairs to his studio in the 11th arrondissement. We didn’t know then that this 18-square-metre chambre de bonne that was about the size of my bedroom at my parents’ place would become my home too during my one-year sabbatical. Good thing I came only with two bags! That day happened to be Mid-Autumn Festival in Asia even though summer had only just ended in Europe. Looking at the bright blue sky, I wondered if my family was admiring a full moon in Singapore at that moment.
Being out of my comfort zone sparked my creativity as I learned to make do with less. My first year away from Singapore went by replete with culinary experiments, French homework, and new ways of seeing the world around me.
September 23, 2011: Exactly one year later – this was not planned, I arrived in Brussels, the same backpack with and suitcase in tow. The only other time I had been in Brussels was for a series of interviews a few months earlier. When I accepted the job offer, I had no inkling of what laid ahead nor that Brussels would be home for almost five years. All I knew was that I wanted to continue living in Europe and one year in Paris was not enough.
One aspect I love about living in continental Europe is the obvious passing of time as the seasons come and go. To observe the bright green buds that herald the start of spring, to find baskets of fresh berries at the farmers’ market come summertime, to enjoy walks bathed in the glorious warm shade of autumn, and to see the condensation of my breath under the streetlights in the long winter nights. Growing up in tropical Singapore, time is sensed differently. The days seem to run like clockwork, blending into one another in a hazy, sometimes languid, blur interrupted by sudden rainstorms.
May 2016: I arrived in Hong Kong, my next home, in mid-summer. Coming from Brussels, the change was jarring yet set in a somewhat familiar environment. From the recognisable cityscape of soaring concrete towers to the unexpected sense of liberation to be able to walk outside at night in shorts instead of being wrapped in multiple layers of clothes.
There were several reasons for returning to Asia which I will not dwell on here. When I first moved to Hong Kong, I had no idea it would be so short, only for 400-odd days. But that’s the beauty of the future, you never know what to expect. You have to keep adapting and hope that your choices will help you to live your best life. Though since you have only one life, then it must, by default, be your best life!
August 2017: We left Hong Kong and bid farewell to the repressive summer amongst other elements. I did not have a concrete plan for what I was going to do next. The months spent in Singapore and travelling morphed into a year of experimentation and discovery.
I immersed myself in the publishing world of SingLit (Singaporean literature), spending several months at Epigram Books and extolling to strangers at pop-ups why they should buy books written by local authors. I spent a lot of time with my parents, more than ever before since my teenage years. We would take morning walks in the nearby park and join guided tours of familiar and unfamiliar neighbourhoods around Singapore – I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.
July 2018: What’s with us arriving in and leaving Hong Kong in summer? Coincidence, I guess. After some deliberation, we decided to give Hong Kong another shot. Maybe if we tried harder to scratch beyond its materialistic veneer we would find something we like about this city.
I took a few months to get settled into a new company and back into the grind of everyday life in Hong Kong. We sought out activities and places that would interest us – from art galleries stowed away in warehouses and repurposed heritage buildings to meandering nature trails behind our new home. But the novelty started to wear off. These may have served to distract us from the harsh reality of this city. After all, you see what you choose to see.
March 2020: Moving to Lamma Island, one of the few inhabited outlying islands in Hong Kong, transformed our lives in Hong Kong. It is so far removed from the Hong Kong that I had been familiar with that it feels like we are living in a different city. Our relocation to Lamma Island was triggered by our former leaky apartment which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as COVID-19 and working from home became an everyday reality.
The future, 2021 and beyond… I am excited to see how the next decade will unfold. With that, here’s ending with a quote from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:
And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be
Are full of trees and changing leaves.
P.S. I thought about whether to embellish photos into this post but decided against it. It would be hard to choose from my thousands of pictures a small selection that would represent my experiences in each of these places. If you made it this far, thank you.