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Searching for my Shanghai Soul Sisters

Who runs the world? GIRLS! This month, in celebration of International Women’s Day, Eve shares her story of how she found her tribe of sisters in a Shanghai and grew a supportive community of women from just 4 people in 2009 to the extensive Thursday Tai Tai (TTT) family it is today.

By Eve Wee-Ang | 1 Mar 2022

Eve (front center) with the rest of Thursday Tai Tai in Shanghai (Photo Credit: Wei Kuan Tay)

I was born and bred in Singapore. Like most of my peers, I grew up in a HDB flat, attended neighborhood schools, worked, and married a Singaporean, my social circle has always contained a safety net of people I knew all my life. My husband and sisters are my best friends and I hung out with my closest girlfriends every Friday night. I stayed near my family so that babysitting help was just a short ride away. In my little community back home, I had all the support I needed.

In 2008, my husband accepted a job posting in Shanghai. I was excited, nervous, yet optimistic. Living abroad has always been my dream since I was a Singapore Airlines cabin crew in my early twenties. It opened my eyes and curiosity to the vast expansive world outside of my little country. I wanted to experience living in a four seasons climate and to raise our little family independently. Shanghai was just a 5-hour flight away, we spoke Mandarin, and this was only a 2-year posting. I was certain we would be alright.

My mother followed us to Shanghai to help babysit while we set up our new life. When the time came for her to return to Singapore, I held her and cried buckets. It dawned on me that as Singaporeans, our family is never far from us. This would be my first time adulting on my own as a new mother to my baby in a foreign country. “What if I accidentally kill her?” I asked my mom. She replied in her usual candor, “I gave birth to you at 19 and three of you are still alive! Won’t lah!” And just like that, she was gone, and the reality of starting all over sunk in.

A month later, I found out I was pregnant again. Friends back home joked that we must have had plenty of time in Shanghai. Our daughter was only 8 months old then. My husband’s new role required him to travel, often going away for more than a week. Every day between battling morning sickness and tending to my daughter, I craved for interaction with people. Whenever I walked past a restaurant and saw a table of girlfriends hanging out laughing together, homesickness tugged at my heart. One day, I brought my daughter to Carrefour for grocery shopping. Suddenly, I heard someone calling me, “Eve?” I couldn’t believe my ears. After nearly 6 months in Shanghai where I’m only known as 汪太太, somebody actually knew my English name! I turned around, saw a familiar face from home and burst into tears.

(L-R): Pioneers of TTT – Hazen, Eve and Jean, Spring 2009 at Xintiandi

When you live abroad, making new friends can feel a lot like dating. You bring your best self, to avoid scaring potential friends away. You don’t reveal too much, in case you don’t end up as friends. And if you like them enough to want to see them again, you don’t want to date them too soon, as that might seemed desperate. So that was what I did. After my grand outburst at Carrefour, my friend, worried I was suffering from pre-natal blues, urgently matchmade me with her Singaporean friends before her flight home, bless her. However, her friends already had their own clique, and I was never invited back again. This was what inspired me to start my own support group, TTT which stands for Thursday Tai Tai.

I decided, instead of sitting at home waiting to be invited, every Thursday without fail, we would invite ourselves and bring another Singaporean or Malaysian mom to lunch. This way we could explore Shanghai’s dining scene and get to know one another at the same time – double win! Why Thursday? My favorite day because it’s Friday’s eve! This idea excited me so much it made me sing even when my daughter was tearing my hair out.

TTT’s First Christmas Party in 2009

On 20 March 2009, four Singaporean moms, who responded to my search and rescue request “Any Singaporean moms out there?” on the Shanghaimamas website, met for dim sum for the first time at Ai Mei Chinese Restaurant, Meridien Hotel in Shanghai. I still remember that brunch as clear as day. I was due in two months and trying to feed my toddler while she fussed. Embarrassed, I looked over at my new friends. Hazen was pregnant while coping with her young one. Ashley had just given birth to her first child and was struggling with breastfeeding. Jean was due to deliver her first child here and like me had burning questions about birthing in Shanghai. One by one, we started sharing our struggles uninhibitedly in Singlish. It was the first time I laughed so hard since arriving in Shanghai. I felt warm and fuzzy, charged and restored by my new friends. I wasn’t alone anymore. I wanted this lunch ritual to carry on for as long as I was in Shanghai.

Thursday Tai Tai celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019! (Photo Credit: Wei Kuan Tay)

This year, TTT celebrates 13 years of connecting through food and play. Playing together creates bonding and memories that stay with us after our Shanghai stint is over. Ladies who have returned home continue to support each other in the TTT Singapore chat. Till today, we deliberately keep TTT small and cozy as I often encourage the ladies to ask themselves, “Is TTT still serving me?” If not, it’s ok to let us go as I believe there is a season for everything in life. In retrospect, we are like a boutique support group for Singaporean and Malaysian wives in Shanghai. To me, what is true and beautiful in a support group isn’t the size, it’s about making time and effort to show up for one another.

The TTT ladies who have since returned home to Singapore (Photo Credit: Wei Kuan Tay)

When women come together as a community to share our stories, we realized we are far more similar than we are different. We may not have the answers to everything but just by being seen, heard, and understood, we feel less alone in our struggles. As my favorite author Glennon Doyle said, “Together, we can do hard things.”

Have you watched the films?

About Eve

Eve Wee-Ang is the first Singaporean certified KonMari® consultant. As a writer and speaker based in Shanghai, she guides and empowers people to tidy up on their own. Mom of two, Eve is also the founder of TTT (Thursday Tai Tai), a support group for Singaporean and Malaysian wives in Shanghai since 2009.

Connect with her at www.eveweeang.com.

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