By Christine | 4 Aug 2020
A little girl from East Berlin and a boy from Mumbai. Who would have thought that one day we were destined to meet, and eventually build a life and a family together – in Singapore? This is the story of us, closely intertwined with the little red dot.
I had been wanting to live abroad for as long as I can remember. Looking back now, I’m sure this yearning was linked with the realities of growing up in East Germany, where “exotic” travel outside of the Communist Eastern Bloc was simply out of bounds for the vast majority of people. I distinctly remember drawing palm trees on scrap paper, daydreaming of faraway lands and even wanting to become an Egyptologist for a few years. None of this was within reach, or so I thought.
The Berlin Wall came down when I was 11 years old, and I am part of that generation that could live the dreams our parents had sacrificed for the political system of their youth. We finished high school in the heady years of the mid-nineties, with the Cold War behind us and the whole wide world waiting to be discovered.
All of my classmates left to study, travel or work abroad. My first stop was the UK where I studied in the beach town of Bournemouth for three years, but this was only the beginning. Next was to be an internship – as far away as I could think of. The Singaporean-German Chamber of Commerce was the first to accept my application, and I happily went along. I didn’t know much about Singapore back then – a prosperous city state strategically located between Thailand and Indonesia (my dreams of swaying palm trees at the beach were about to come true).
I arrived on 31 December 2002. Walking down Orchard Road on New Year’s Eve in the warm breeze, dizzy with excitement and jet lag below the blinking lights of the magnificent rain trees, I deemed myself in paradise. This was South East Asia, a melting pot of cultures, cuisines and aspirations. Anything seemed possible, and the next few months were all I had hoped for, and more. I met a charming boy from Mumbai here in Singapore, and we fell in love.
I could have stayed on in Singapore forever but, at the time, it was not possible and things were about to become complicated.
We had to take a detour for three and half years. Important and eventful years, but Singapore and the idea of a life together had become synonymous, and we clung on to this dream. For it was here that we were both at ease, the girl from East Berlin and the boy from Mumbai. And so we came back in 2007, newly married and with nothing but a suitcase full of dreams.
It will be thirteen years this September and we’ve come a long way. Fast forward to today, and here we are, in our own HDB flat (i.e. Singapore’s phenomenal public housing which houses 80-90% of the population), with two lovely children and a dog, stable jobs that we love, and our lives firmly anchored in this city that has become our home.
“I’ve been asked to write an article about why we love Singapore”, I said to my husband the other day. “I remember the first thing you said about Singapore when we met”, he laughs, “You said that finally you can wear sandals all year long!”
Oh, but on a more serious note, here is why:
In Singapore, we are comfortable and safe. Hailing from countries that grapple with racism and nationalism, we deeply appreciate the social cohesion and don’t take it for granted. In fact, we often discuss the intricacies of policymaking required to make the diversity of this city work. Different cultures and religions are treated with respect, and yet there is a spirit that rises above it all, an awe-inspiring sincerity and passion in the pursuit of excellence.
Is it perfect? No, of course it’s not. For example, in the well-defined structures here, what “race” are our children, and what “mother tongue” should they study in school? They fully identify as Singaporeans, in their passports as well as in their hearts, but may still find themselves in awkward situations at times.
As immigrants, there will always be idiosyncrasies, cultural references or Singlish jokes that we don’t understand. But this also keeps it interesting for there is always something more to discover, something new to learn, and deeper understanding to be found.
And yes, the little girl in me is still thrilled at the sight of palm trees swaying in the wind.
So here’s to you, our little red dot, our home – happiest birthday from all of us! May you persevere and prosper, and continue to be a place where dreams can come true.
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When not working as marketing manager or hanging out with her family, Christine can be found pottering in the garden, catching up on current affairs and news, or studying sustainability topics. She is also a grassroots volunteer in her community in Sunset Way estate, Clementi.