A reflection : 10 months in London

It’s exactly 10 months to the date we arrived in London and began our new life as a family.

Both W and I have lived in the UK before this. W, well, has always been here since finishing uni. I’ve been here for a year before to do my postgrad. It is, however, always different when you have a family. There are all these posts and pieces circulated on facebook …from ‘why i left Singapore and found my pot of gold elsewhere’ to ‘why I came back to Singapore and kissed my first plate of chicken rice’.

My personal experience is a little different. I’m not sure if this is to do with my Eurasian – Malaysian Chinese background where migration is only a generation before, and not 3 or 4 generations away like the majority of Singaporeans. Both my parents were born in Malaysia, with my dad moving between Malaysia and Singapore like a migratory bird in his teens. My parents moved to Singapore in the early 80s when I was a toddler and a fair number of relatives from both sides of my family have migrated to the UK, Australia and elsewhere.  This is why I’ve never been the least bit interested in the ‘stayers vs quitters’ debate. Its a false dichotomy. End of. The movement of people over history has been and will always be a far more complex discourse than that.

But people still label choices when you move, and I find this perturbing coming from a country where politicians never fail to remind the populace that we were once “a small fishing village”.  No wonder immigrant integration has been a tricky path to navigate. One would have thought that with the constant drumming of “our forefathers and grandfathers who left their shores to seek better fortunes yada yada yada”, Singaporeans would have had a much easier time accepting new immigrants into the country, no? Or for that matter, being less critical and more supportive when their fellow countrymen choose to move away. After all, the same who criticize would probably be harvesting rice in the China and India countryside right now rather than grumbling about work on Facebook in air-conditioned offices.

Everyone’s choices and experiences are different. The first thing I had said to me was ‘no maid. you have to do everything yourself’. Well, I’ve had to run a household for over 10 years all by myself as my dad died early and my mum was too depressed to get out of bed. There was no maid growing up and I only got one in later years because I needed someone around while I was away in London. Further on, for childcare reasons. I have cooked, cleaned and done the groceries by myself for years and years, so what’s the problem now? I suppose it helps that I come from a family of sturdy women, some of whom, like my aunt, have held full-time jobs with 3 children *and* done all the cooking, cleaning and groceries. Dare I complain, especially when my 73 year old aunt is STILL working part-time but yet comes home to put pork chops on the table for dinner and iron the clothes!?  My own mother would bollock me for an untidy house, toddler or no toddler (“What do you MEAN your tired, I had 2 small kids no help whatsoever yet I hand washed your nappies now get off your arse!”).

Other comments mainly revolved around being apart from of close family. Of course it hurts to be apart from your loved ones and I think of my mum everyday. But skype and whatsapp go far these days. It also helps that I have family here, although they are not exactly around the corner and live further away from London. It is not, however, a situation that impinges on our everyday lives. Having your parents around the corner and available for emergency childcare is perhaps an experience that’s unique to city-states or in some cases, when children or parents mutually choose to move closer to each other. In the vast majority of countries, family is a 4 hour drive (or longer) away and you just have to get on with it.

Childcare and education are obviously different. My number 1 pet peeve when reading articles by overseas Singaporeans is when they extol the overseas childcare/education experience to the exclusion of Singapore. Even worse is when they compare how their kids were ‘force fed’ in Singapore schools. FFS no one in Singapore is force feeding your kid. Your kid can choose to switch off, period. Gone are the days of being caned, publicly shamed etc. You really mean that 90% of Singapore schools are structured and it is this structure that *some* kids find stifling (Because of a lot of kids thrive on structure!!. This is vastly different from being force fed. And on that note, it’s wrong to say that the overseas education experience is all Montessori – i -learn-what-i-want-today. Or like that ridiculous, pretentious Little Forest Folk playschool in Chiswick running mackeral pate cookery lessons for preschoolers. Like jeez, look, there is still structure, there are still standard assessments and exams. Structure and discipline is not uniquely Singaporean. There is homework too!! There are still last minute requests for some special day at school and parents still find themselves dashing out at 8pm trying to find appropriate materials to help their kids. There are still schools that insist kids learn English and French *and* an additional language. And parents still worry when their child can’t read at 4-5. Some things are universal no matter the education system.

What I will say for now is that childcare here tends to teach toddlers to be independent and there are more opportunities for interaction to build emotional development in a child. G started nursery at 16  months, and his fellow playmates were all able to eat with proper metal cutlery, drink from an open cup and hold a crayon and paintbrush decently. He was barely able to spoon his yoghurt out of the container back then. Thankfully he has caught up and brings home bits and bobs of art work every now and then.

There are also endless playgroups to go to. Either free or for a small fee. G does sing and sign, as well as Mandarin playgroup. We enjoyed swimming but it got too cold. There are also free stay and play sessions at our local children’s centre, story-time at the library, and soft play at the museum. There is always something to do everyday and thus I’ve not found it necessary to increase the number of days G is at nursery as there are many opportunities for him to interact, pick up social skills, and learn important emotional development lessons as sharing. There is no other way of saying it like it is – it starts from young. I’m completely and really really happy with G’s emotional development. No real tantrums with sharing his toys, apart from his beloved bus (because, you know, wheels on the BUS!!!). Only the other day his nursery emailed us a pic of him cuddling his mate at nursery.

It’s not my place to discuss one other key factor ie W’s career path. Suffice to say it’s a brighter path for him than Singapore. So 10 months it has been, we’re all still alive and well and it’s moving into summer now. Our new flat is due for completion soon, and we will move in a few weeks. All has been, and is well. The future is bright, full of hope, with lots of love and faith.

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