It all began in Venice. It was the summer of 2018, and hubby and I planned a trip to Italy (sans kids). As we were walking down the canals, completely lost and loving every minute of it, we found a bench in a park with a man feeding the pigeons. It might sound picturesque, but he wasn’t your Disney-character type. He wore no smile and threw stones at the much larger seagulls whenever they got too close. (He never actually hit them, but he did get his point across.)
Hubby and I sat on an adjacent bench, watching him alternate between throwing stones and bread, just soaking up the sun without the humidity or any child-induced interruptions. It was then in one of those rare moments of complete silence that we both experienced a shared epiphany. What would it be like to downshift? What if we left the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Singapore where time was money and everything was connected, if not by MRT then by WIFI, and a government surplus approaching $5 billion allowed buildings to be torn down and rebuilt as a pastime.
What if we purposefully slowed down–got out of the fast lane–and actually smelled those roses everyone keeps talking about.
It was an easy decision for him to make. He’d been asking to leave Singapore for a few years now, but I was always the reluctant one. Our girls were born in Singapore, it’s one of the safest nations on the planet, and the lifestyle is uniquely convenient. I mean, in what other nation can you file your taxes in nine minutes? At four-am? Online?
And then there were my friends. Women I had grown to love like sisters and their children like nieces and nephews. How could I leave them?
But sitting there on that park bench, the pigeon-feeder long gone, my husband whispered in my ear: “Remember when we were brave, and we just picked up and went backpacking?” We handed in our 30-day notice for work, moved out of our apartment, put our belongings in storage, and simply booked a one-way ticket out of Tokyo.
I thought back to the time when we decided to take an unscheduled detour in Vang Vien just to see what the town was like. It wound up being the best part of our stay in Laos. Thinking of Laos also reminded me of the time when we were dining at a café in Vientiane, and this French couple rode by on their bikes–young kids and all. I said to my husband at the time, “If we ever have kids, I hope we take them backpacking with us.”
The silence stretched for a while between us before he finally said, “We should be brave again.”
I started thinking about change and how showing the girls a different part of the world could be fun. I hadn’t had an adventure in a long time, and I couldn’t help thinking of that French couple. They were brave.
“Alright,” I said. “Where do you want to go?”
Some things are luxuries, like deciding where in the world you want to live. After a few spreadsheets with pro and con columns, cost of living adjustments, convenience indicators, and schooling costs, we decided on Spain. It felt good, and so we started planning for a move to Europe in late 2019/early 2020.
About two months after returning from our summer holiday, I fulfilled a lifelong dream: I received a book deal. It was a surreal feeling, and if I’m honest, it felt hella validating. Sure I’ve had short stories published and I make a pretty decent living as a ghostwriter and freelance editor, but there’s nothing like wanting to become a novelist, and then actually becoming one. My Singapore sisters (the women from my village who have become lifelong friends) dropped all parental and marital responsibilities on the night that I signed and took me out for a drink with a backdrop of Marina Bay Sands.
For a brief moment, I felt on top of the world.
Ah, but there cannot be a rainbow without a little rain.
I’ve learned that life will always throw a lot of little things at you, but sometimes they pile up and can tip the cart. While I’ve painted this rosy picture above about a vacation in Venice and lovely memories of backpacking around SE Asia, the reality is, I was stuck in a rut of burnout. Hubby and I were pursuing our own individual goals outside of work (me, novel; hubby, AI side project + trading) while I was trying to be an engaged, present parent who volunteered at school, read all the letters sent home, stayed abreast of exam schedules and homework, taxiing to singing lessons and drum lessons, not to mention ballet on Friday and swimming on Monday and Tuesday.
To make a long story short, in the end hubby pulled the plug and expedited our departure from Singapore. While intellectually I knew it was the right call, emotionally I struggled. All the gratitude journaling I’d done for over a year and the meditation that I had practiced for six months–none of it worked.
But it was the love and support of friends and family who got me through those times. They swallowed their stories so they could listen to mine. They let me talk about the same things… repeatedly. They threw me goodbye parties and sent me off with keepsakes for those days when I would inevitably feel lonely.
They also reminded me that joy exists in all things.
My personal rainbow
I write this post from England. Not España. I do not have blue skies and 18-degree weather; instead, I have family. And snow–my kids finally got to see the real thing.
My neighbors are alpacas, and cows and horses. Every morning since moving into this grand “country manor”, I see kites, squirrels and the occasional fox or badger.
My kids have space–space like I had when growing up. They have woods to get lost in and a secret garden to call their own.
The church bell’s toll is soft enough not to wake me, but loud enough to remind me to take the pie out of the oven. (Just joking, I don’t bake.)
I did not see this coming. Not a year ago, not six months ago and definitely not when I packed up our home in Singapore just eight short weeks ago.
But at the other end of my rainbow, I’ve found peace. And joy.