08 November 2011


The cycle of expats moving to Singapore continues. More and more couples and young families are making their cross-world expeditions and experiencing life in baby Asia. What is interesting is the time some of these families are spending here While, generally speaking, most expat contracts bind a person to Singapore for between two and three years, few people are on a one-year contract and, fewer still, are here for shorter periods like six months.

Six months, to me, is more like an extended vacation than a cultural living experience. I know three people here for that term. One woman who lives outside Boston told me that she and her family (husband and two children), are here on six-month cycles over seven years – they commute back and forth every six months. Yes, I would count that as cultural living, but how crazy is that?!

Cassie, my Michigan friend, decided to use her six months to travel as much as possible, a goal which she accomplishes almost every week. I think she is away from Singapore more than she is actually here living in her apartment. She and her husband have traveled to Thailand, the Maldives, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia and they plan to just keep going.

Another friend, Laura, is here on a six-month term as well. She, however, is using her time to work temporarily. Amazingly, and we do not yet know how, she was able to find a job right away and they were fine with her leaving five months after she started. Good for her.

So, for the rest of you out there ready to make the trek, including my soon-to-be-friend from Texas, here are some things you to help you on your journey to becoming a full-fledged Singaporean expat wife:

First, start a blog. You may think that you have such an original idea in starting a blog. You come up with a great theme and a great title. You can’t wait to design your own page and write your first post. And then you get here and find out that every other expat wife has a blog. And, if they don’t, they have likely started a blog of some sort and just not published it yet.

Lucinda, right, accompanying me to a ballet in the park
Second, meet your new gateway drug – other expat wives. Trust me because I speak from experience and because my friends have told me so – you cannot survive in another country without friends. And there are no better friends than the ones who are in your situation, who can offer you advice and who can tell you exactly which store you will be able to find Crisco or cornmeal or OPI nail polish for under S$18 a bottle.

The expat wives are the gateway to everything. Once you meet the girls, you develop a schedule. You have lunch, you have coffee, you explore areas of the city together. You go to museums and art galleries and do things your husband never wants to do.

Once you meet the wives, you get to meet the husbands. Then the husbands become friends and may or may not hang out on their own. Friendly dinners turn into Family Game Nights and pasta parties. You will look forward to these.

Liana, with her new mustache ring. We are all jealous.

Join an organization or two. Getting involved in organizations that suit your interests is a way to meet friends. It is also another schedule builder, which is key. Sitting at home wondering what you could be doing will drive you crazy and into depression. Friends and an independent personality will save you.

I ordered a pint, which is much bigger
than I had ever imagined. Stupid American.
Get a conversion app for your phone. Learning new things can be challenging but one can really get one’s self in trouble in the conversion department quite easily. Money is not hard. The money is based on a dollar system just like in the U.S. so when a taxi driver says, “Six dollars,” you know to hand the guy six dollars. Even though the U.S. dollar is worth a bit more, you know that you are paying outrageous prices for cereal, alcohol and ice cream.

You will learn that 30 degrees is bloody hot for outside and that anything below 24 degrees inside will freeze you out. My oven temperatures are based upon a 360-degree dial turn, not necessarily the actual Celsius temperature. I know that to heat my oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, I turn my oven knob 180 degrees so that the dial points down. Coincidentally, the Celsius temperature is 180 so that helps.

Recipes call for ingredients in ounces, grams and milliliters. Scales are a must. Invest in a scale.

When you travel to neighboring countries, the money is very different so conversion apps become a necessity. But you don’t have to go very far to learn that you need help. I, last night, ordered a pint of beer at a restaurant and found a whole new meaning for the term, “double fisting.” I am a stupid American.

Bali, Indonesia
Travel. Make the effort. Think of travel in Southeast Asia like travelling to neighboring states in the U.S. but this time you get stamps on your passport. Cheap airfare is available. Cheap travel accommodations, especially in designated off seasons, are easy to find. When you travel, you tell your friends where to go. When everyone is travelling except you, you hear all of the great stories and see all of the great pictures and just wish you could see and do what everyone else is seeing and doing. Do it.

Enjoy not having a job, then desperately try to find a job, then be completely content applying for jobs even though you have absolutely no hope that anyone will ever call you. At least you are trying, right? For those who want to work at some point, seriously, take your time. Get acclimated to the area. Relax a little. Explore a lot. When you become ready, you can get started searching through job applications that will likely tell you that you either need to be Singaporean or a Permanent Resident or else there is no need for you to waste your time.

There are jobs out there, and I do know this, but only one of my friends found a job after moving here and she is leaving in five months. We hear that the market is really going to open up at the end of January after the Chinese New Year, when people receive bonuses and then up and leave the companies that just paid them for their successes. Way to go corporate loyalty programs!

Volunteer. When unable to find a paying gig, do what you do best for free. Many unemployed expat wives, including myself, spend a few hours at a time working in a fun environment, doing things most people do not get to do. Whether volunteering one day a month or a few times a week, enjoyment and the time in the schedule is there.

Learn to celebrate. Singapore has a lot of holidays, so get ready. My husband is actually annoyed at how many holidays Singapore celebrates. When the businesses are closed, the streets and the parks and the malls and the museums are flooded with people like a weekend on steroids. These holidays are a great way to learn Asian history, Asian culture, Asian religion and Asian folklore. And it’s a great way to get the family out to celebrate in the streets with everyone else.

Lantern Festival in Chinatown
Deepavali celebration in Little India 


pradeep nagar said...

Thank You

Your blog is very informative

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Sarah A said...

Hi! My husband is studying at NYU Tisch Asia and I found you while trying to find more info. Thanks so much for this really fun and informative blog. Good luck on your adventures :)