What are we doing here?

So far I’ve managed to have a good old whinge about the hot weather, the long working hours, the super-competitive educational system, the crowds… not to mention the latest: The Haze.

Singapore has been recently blanketed in unhealthy levels of smoky haze from Indonesia’s slash-and-burn forest fires. (image source: travelerstoday.com)

And did I mention mosquitoes?

So the question everyone keeps asking us is “What are you doing here?!?”

Don’t get me wrong, Singapore is high up on the list of desirable places to live, and for good reason. It was even recently voted top place in the world to live and work for expats. But we didn’t come here for the job opportunities, the stable economy, the clean, safe streets or advanced infrastructure. Singapore may well be foodie heaven, a shopper’s paradise and a great base to travel the region. But the real reason we have come back – is for family.

I recently realized that in Chinese, there is only one word for the concepts “home” and “family”.

“jiā” is used to mean both “home” and “family”

Perhaps in Chinese culture they are inseparable, one and the same. Is this an outdated idea in the age of globalization or something worth holding on to?

It is inevitable that for reasons spanning education, career, relationships, crisis or adventure, many end up living away from family, as we have been doing for the past 18 years. We have plenty of friends who have moved multiple times across several continents. So “home”, in the sense of “jiā”, can become a nebulous, even irrelevant, concept.

When and why did it suddenly become relevant to us in our comfortable little bubble in Edinburgh? We love Scotland, and it would be fair to say we prayed, agonized and prayed some more over our decision to move. Maybe we realized the girls were missing out on having grandparents. Maybe we had conversations with friends who worried about parents in ill health over the other side of the world. Maybe the entrenched Confucian notion of “filial piety” (which I learned about whilst watching period kungfu serial dramas as a kid) was kicking in.

(Okay, whilst we certainly don’t subscribe to ancestral worship, it would be fair to say that respect for one’s family elders is a cornerstone of Chinese culture. There is an expectation that children will look after their parents as they age.)

So I guess we’ve also noticed that our parents are *gasp* getting on. When we left home they were still working crazy hours and dashing back and forth juggling the universe. Now they’ve all just about retired, and are ready for another season. I know our girls are truly blessed to have four doting grandparents in good health and good spirits, so it really makes sense that they can spend time with us now, especially given that we have the opportunity and means to make it happen.

We want our parents to enjoy being grandparents whilst our girls are little enough to want to help sweep, bake and snuggle on the sofa for cuddles. And we want the kids to know them too, to have a broader sense of family and a deeper understanding of their roots and identity. The bond between grandparents and grandchildren can have very tangible, measurable effects on each other’s psychological and emotional well-being, long into the grandchildren’s adulthood.

What do grandparents and whales have in common? Grandparenthood - an unusual feature of the human lifespan that is only shared with a couple of other species, such as certain whales. (image source: championsforcetaceans.com)

Random fact: what do grandparents and whales have in common? Grandparenthood – an unusual feature of the human lifespan that is only shared with a couple of other species, such as certain whales. (image source: championsforcetaceans.com)

In fact, children can gain a lot from knowing more about their family history and getting some perspective on their place within the wider family story. Various articles from the Atlantic and the NY Times suggest that “developing a strong family narrative” may be one of the most important ways of strengthening a child’s emotional health and happiness, even if that family story includes aspects which are difficult or painful.

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The girls finding out about grandma’s school days

A lot of family knowledge dies with every passing generation, and until recently I’d never given much thought to this. But now that I have children, I just have this gut feeling that these intergenerational relationships within the family may have an influence and significance I can’t articulate. We are extra lucky that both sets of grandparents live in the same country (on the same street, even!) which makes the where-to-live decision much more straightforward.

At a more practical level, there are many advantages to having grandparents around (hands up who moved back to be near your folks when the baby arrived?) and yes, we’ve already been enjoying the unlimited free babysitting that was sorely missed in Edinburgh.

And in time, if our parents need to rely on our help and support, we will not have the worry of being on the other side of the world, struggling to figure out when to fly back and for how long. We will be here. We’ll know who their friends are, where they keep the spare keys, and how they like their tea.

My parents have been patiently putting us up (and putting up with us!) for three months now as we await the keys to our new place. It’s been an intensive period of re-acquaintance to say the least. There’s nothing like being under the same roof again to rediscover all those quirks you found so heartwarming / amusing / irritating* (*delete as appropriate). But at the end of the day, family is family. And being here, now, just seems right.

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1 Comment

  1. Lovely photos 🙂

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