(Written in July of 2014)
I have betrayed my country.
I spent the fourth of July this year hanging out with a gaggle of British ladies. And I loved it.
It was very strange to be away from home for this holiday. I was very distracted, preparing for the birthday of Kiddo 1, and I barely realized it was the fourth of July until everyone back home started posting about fireworks and BBQ’s and whatnot.
It felt a bit like an out of body experience (though I am no expert in this). It was never that much of a big deal holiday to me (or maybe I am lacking in ‘Murican spirit), but to realize the fourth of July had happened without me made me feel a bit like a helium balloon being held by a toddler—my connection to the states felt tenuous at best.
This feeling first began with a roll of toilet paper.
When we moved out here, we brought what was left of our Costco-sized pack of toilet paper. I found that as it dwindled, thus dwindled my attachment to the United States. Eventually I had to buy toilet paper in Singapore (which fit the toilet paper holder much better) , and I put my first metaphorical foot down on Singaporean ground.
This happened over and over as I used up and threw out things I had brought over: Q-tips and Ziploc bags from Costco, Kiddo 1’s little red camping chair (disintegrated due to strong sun on our balcony… seriously), the vase I broke yesterday, etc. One by one, our American belongings have been slowly replaced by Singaporean purchases, as needed. With each replacement, that “toddler holding my balloon” kept loosening his grip, causing me to slip ever so slightly higher into the air and away from my old comfort zone.
More than 6 months into this adventure, I am now somewhere between stages 3 and 4 of culture shock (more info here). I really like it here. I basically live in a resort, with a maid to clean up after me and three pools and tons of palm trees waiting for me in the common areas. I felt so happy as I walked outside into the sunshine today, the smell of the air laden with flowers. A butterfly flickered across my path. Just lovely. Sure, I sweat everywhere I go, and a $5 bottle of wine at home costs $25 out here (they tax it). It makes you wonder what it would cost in the US for a bottle of wine out here that costs $16… (for my math friends, a little linear joke).
I have had many students from abroad over the years, and now I truly feel the way they must have… sort of country-less. Over the years, I taught many students whose parents were born in Mexico, but they were born here. They mostly hung out together during free periods, as they felt they didn’t quite fit in with the “white” kids that were born here. However, they told me they faced the same thing back in Mexico—they weren’t “Mexican” enough to be completely accepted by teens there. I am starting to feel “in-between” like that. I can see where re-entry culture shock will happen when/if we move back to the states as I am no longer the same as I was.
As this toddler lets me fly into the air, I am feeling (obviously) ungrounded. Yet somehow, I am finding my footing in the clouds.
I am part of a community of people in the exact same boat. Women who have left their home countries to come to Singapore, some willingly, some not so much. For the stay-at-home spouses like me, we have all left our jobs behind, and come here finding that we have lost our identities to some extent. Finding new friends, new activities, and new haunts, you are actively defining yourself, as opposed to back home, where all those things were previously defining you. You don’t realize it until you leave. You just feel like YOU. But when you remove everything around you that used to be part of YOU, you feel a bit lost.
Life out here feels very strange. Like limbo. You are not sure exactly how long you will live here, so you have a hard time planning for the future. Do you plan for it here? In the states? Do you not plan for it at all? Do you create family traditions that will only work in a year-round warm climate? Do you do the traditions from home even though they just don’t work out here with the heat and humidity (see my friend’s pumpkin below)?
It’s very weird.
Luckily, my kids are quite little; they are quite unaware of it all. And for me, I am carving out a little place in this world, and trying on some Singlish for size, at least when texting the hubs. (Wah, why you so blur? Come try this new restaurant. So shiok, lah!) :)