Written August 10, 2016
I have a very big problem.
We have been living in Dubai in temporary housing for about three weeks now, and I am down to my last kopi packet. Coffee is called kopi in Singapore, and it is lovely. It is made with sweetened condensed milk. My usual kopi order was kopi c peng siew dai, which means iced coffee with evaporated milk and less sugar (click here to find your kopi order). You can get kopi in every food center around Singapore, in the tiniest neighborhoods and most sprawling hawker centers in huge malls. It comes in a glass mug if you want it cold, a small plastic mug if you want it hot, or takeaway in a plastic drawstring bag. I always enjoyed the novelty of getting my takeaway kopi in a plastic bag. :D
I probably should have stashed away a ton of the 3-in-1 powdered kopi packets, but I thought I would be able to transition easily to available coffees in Dubai. I’ve been a bit in denial about my dwindling supply, hoping that it would somehow multiply its numbers via mitosis.
But here it is, the last kopi. My last piece of rich Singapore culture, at least the part that can be easily transported in a suitcase to another country. It represents the fact that I must let go of Singapore; I need to say goodbye and make my peace with the fact that we have moved on.
I am clawing my way through culture shock right now, though it isn’t nearly as bad as it was when we moved to Singapore. I am not pregnant, I spend most of my time in air conditioned malls or the hotel (temp housing), and I am able to walk (I was in a wheelchair when we moved to Singapore). I also think it is a little easier because it’s my second move abroad. I have already had to say goodbye to the people I love, I have already had to adjust to new stores and unknown brands. I think some form of culture shock will happen with every move, directly varying in strength with the breadth of the difference between the old and new cultures.
We have no official home, the landscape looks very different here, the culture operates differently here, the dress code is different here, and I’m not yet settled in. Intense emotions are tempered by the daily meditation I’ve been doing, along with the fact that I know I will be settled eventually. It’s kind of like having your second baby, where you have sleepless nights, endless crying, and bodily pain, but you know it will get better and better one day at a time because it did the first time. And just like having a second baby, you have a new perspective on the process. You handle it better, see the positive sides and silver linings sooner and more frequently; you laugh a little more.
I know I don’t have to forget about Singapore; I also know I never will. The hubs spent three years networking to get his position working in Singapore, and we worked hard to create our life there. I wasn’t completely happy there at the start, but I eventually worked through all the stages of culture shock. The amazing people of Singapore, and the food, the kopi, heck, even the Singapore Sling are a part of my soul now. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have lived there, to get to know the aunties and uncles, the foods, the holidays, the birds and flowers and trees… everything. It is so freaking hard to say goodbye. You never truly know if what is ahead of you will be as good as what was behind you.
It is fitting that I write this the day after National Day in Singapore. Had we been there, the kiddos would have dressed up in their red and white clothes and sung the national anthem with their classmates. When Kiddo 1 and I talked about it yesterday, we realized we don’t even know the UAE’s birthday, nor do we have clothing in the national flag colors either. But I promised Kiddo 1 we would get all that figured out in due time.
I couldn’t drink that last kopi today, but I know I will soon, when I feel ready to let go of the rope that connects me to Singapore. The rope that will connect me to Dubai is waiting for me. I hope it will be just as beautiful and strong as my rope to Singapore.
Before publishing this post, I went back and read over my first posts from when I moved to Singapore. I described feeling like a balloon held by a toddler who was slowly loosening his grip, leaving me to find my footing in the clouds. It does appear that I am stronger this time around, feeling a rope connecting me directly instead of the flimsy grip of a toddler holding a balloon string. I am in control this time. Perhaps living in new place after new place helps you quickly and purposefully settle in and get connected. Or maybe I’ve just permanently settled in the clouds. Wherever I go, I will always have my cloud home. It certainly puts a lot less pressure on finding a new “permanent” home here in Dubai, and I think it plays a large part in why my culture shock is not so bad this time around. Dubai is a modern city-state, just like Singapore, so the change to my lifestyle is small
Thank you for reading my blog—it keeps me accountable for processing my experience and has absolutely kept me sane these past few years. Reflecting back on my earlier writings and the changes I have undergone—well, it’s been fascinating IMHO. I can’t wait to share with you all I learn in this next phase of my life. I hope it helps you to reflect and learn things about yourself as well.
Walk back in time with me:
- Grappling with culture shock stage 2 in Making Friends as an Adult, Part 3
- Wrestling with culture shock stage 3 in Our Life Thus Far in Singapore
- Moving through culture shock stage 4 in Traitor
Learn about the four stages of culture shock by clicking here.