Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The lessons of Singapore

It’s taken a team of 6 people 6 hours to pack the ‘contents’ of my life – to take everything out of draws and cupboards and pack them away in the back of a truck to be stored until shipment to Australia.  It’s a strange thing to watch – they don’t bother to stop and look at the framed photos or flick through the albums and smile at the memories – it’s just done, and done fast.

We have only had 20 months in Singapore, which feels like a short time when you say it out loud, but it has left a big mark on us all.  

Not long after my eldest daughter was born, my husband and I started talking about leaving England and moving to Australia, but as the conversation progressed we found we weren’t quite ready for our ‘end goal’ to be with us.  When an opportunity came up for me to work out of the Singapore office it took less than 5 minutes for us to decide to go for it.  We had hoped the experience would give us an opportunity to spend time bonding as our own little family and working out the practicalities of our dreams and goals: what was important to us; how we (my husband and I) wanted to raise our children; where we wanted to spend our lives; and what we really wanted to do with them – without the distractions and obligations of home.

Starting somewhere with a completely clean slate (no real history, no assumptions, no assessments of who we are or might be – generally) brings huge challenges, but also great reward.  I have found both my husband and I approaching conversations differently, considering new opinions and backgrounds and broadening our own views because of it.

Probably the greatest lesson of Singapore has been reminding me what is truly important.  I have recently been introduced to the idea of ‘first world problems’ (I’m told this is a term used by the ‘young ones’ these days) – which resonates with me.  I am very good at (and have always been) comparing myself to others.  What should I own, what should I have achieved, where should I be?  In Singapore there is such enormous opportunity and wealth (and it must be said much of what I have seen has been within the foreign community here), my assumptions and comparisons were put to the test.  Here, I wasn’t just considering whether I had achieved enough career wise (although this has been in my mind), but also whether I could afford the best school for my children, did I have enough pension/savings, were my holidays ample – were the opportunities I could offer my family great enough…?  And the list went on – and on.  I worried about it – a lot.  

The arrival of my second daughter shifted things slightly…  the pull of being ‘home’ in Australia (and the opportunity to ‘put down some roots’) grew strong enough for us to start making plans.  My two ‘conflicting Kates’ however, continued to argue between the importance of my career (and the continuing opportunities Singapore provided) and the draw of ethereal motherhood.

And then a friend of mine died.  She was in her early thirties with a young son and it was so brutally unfair I found myself shaken.  What really is important…?

My family – their health and happiness
My own health and happiness
Being a good, positive role model to my girls

The list could be much longer, but in short – it didn’t involve getting the next corporate promotion or making more money. 

And so the decision was made.

Today I indulged in a spot of people watching over breakfast at our serviced apartment and noticed a number of people who I assume are ‘on their way in’ to Singapore – finding their feet, working out where to live etc.  And I really appreciated how nice it is to be part of something with a real beginning, middle and end. 

As a family we’re ready for the next chapter, but so grateful for this one and what it has taught us.  Singapore has made us the family we are and reinforced our own values and goals.  I hope in the long run we can look back and see that it has made us better, truer people for the experience.  And I hope the friendships we have made here endure the distance we’re about to put between them.

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