Singapore is a country of immigrants. We are constantly welcoming newcomers to our shores, but we are also bidding adieu to many who leave to set up homes overseas with their foreign spouses or to pursue their careers. In the process, many Singaporeans take their children along, or have children born away from the island.
Last month, Lim Monica Devi spoke to parents to find out how they keep their Singapore spirit alive. In the second part of this story, she continues her journey and speaks to several Singaporeans living overseas and their children to find out just how Singaporean our little Juniors are.
8 December 2020 / By Monica Devi Lim
Making friends for children is often easier with a parent’s guiding hand. Some Singaporeans living overseas pave the way to friendship for their juniors.
As an ex-MOE Chinese-language teacher, Karen from the Netherlands decided to put her skills to good use and opened a play-based school where her children, 5-year-old Alex and 7-year-old Maisie, are exposed to Chinese culture and the Mandarin language, alongside other children.
“I celebrate every single Chinese festival with my children! We used to head back to Singapore for Chinese New Year every year, but once our kids turned 5, we could no longer take time off school. So, I organised a Chinese New Year party this year and more than 80 people of different nationalities turned up! Being away has also pushed me to make things I never thought I would, like mooncakes and rice dumplings.”
Karen adds that parents too have to be flexible. “Children in the Netherlands believe in Sinterklaas, not Father Christmas. To ensure that our kids don’t feel left out, we’ve adopted the Sinterklaas tradition on top of Christmas. We tell the kids that Sinterklaas and Father Christmas are cousins!”
Maggie, who is also based in the Netherlands, concurs that it’s about finding the similarities. “We go for Halloween pumpkin-carving workshops, walk around the neighbourhood and collect candies for St. Martin’s, and celebrate Mooncake Festival in the backyard – all need lanterns anyway!”
“Johannes is a typical Danish teen – he cycles everywhere as a mode of transport, he goes out with friends after school and has sleepovers. We used to go to Christmas markets, but this doesn’t interest him anymore as a teen,” says Junieta with a laugh.
Growing up away from Singapore, the concern of many Singaporeans living overseas is that their offspring will lose touch, or never get to know and love, Singapore well enough. From concerted efforts to follow National Day Parades online to ensuring that their offspring learn the Asian language that the Singaporean parent identifies with as his or her own, Singaporeans living overseas are keen to share their love for the Little Red Dot with their children.
Some, like Nimmi from the United States, take an active role in ensuring that their children learn more about part of their heritage. “Vijay is familiar with Singaporean culture and has read books on the folklore of Singapore. For example, the terrifying swordfish in the tale of how Bukit Merah got its name still mesmerises his imagination today!”
Some, like Junieta, take the alternate practical approach. “I don’t teach my son Malay as I don’t see the need for it. He is already learning 4 languages and I don’t see the need for him to learn Malay when our family and friends speak English.”
Raising children is a tough undertaking, what more in a foreign land away from one’s extended family and cultural norms. Whatever the approach that Singaporean parents living overseas have taken to share about their motherland with their juniors, there certainly is awareness, and even fondness, among the children about The Little Red Dot.
Some, like Wee Sim’s young children who were studying in schools on the island, yearn for when they can return. “Singapore is our home. We have grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins there. We miss them. We also want to go back to our schools in Singapore and play with our friends. We even miss the uncles and aunties at our favourite school canteen and hawker centre stalls. We hope they still remember us.”
Rayan, Siti’s 12-year-old son, who lives in London, says, “I miss my family and friends the most. Singapore is a smart country. It’s special to me because I grew up there and I definitely want to go back there. It’s tougher in school as there was lots of homework! But on the plus side, it’s always sunny and there’s good food everywhere.”
Yes, there is of course the unanimous response, “It’s a great shopping and food paradise!” from the children. Names of dishes like roti prata, prawn noodles, yong tau foo in laksa gravy, Hainanese chicken rice, et al. come rolling off their tongues.
Johannes, Junieta’s 14-year-old son, sums it up to offer the general sentiment of a child of a Singaporean born and brought up overseas. “Singapore is a cool city – good food, shopping, activities, family and friends, and of course, the warm weather.”
About Monica Devi Lim
Monica has lived away from the island for just over 15 years. Due to COVID19 and a new job, Monica will have a non-tropical Christmas in Belgium with her Danish husband in 2020. She’s looking forward to expanding her love of cooking and experimental flavours over the holidays. Upon advice, she has stocked up on layers of clothes but will try not to look like the Michelin Man. She’s always up for a good laugh – reach her at email@example.com with your story.