Moving for Love: Why I abandoned the Singapore dream
By Ramona Koh, Feb 07, 2019
Ramona is a 30-year-old who, until fairly recently, lived in Singapore all her life. She’s now married (and pregnant!), living in London and running a tour business with her British husband.
“All you need is love….
And your future husband must be able to support you la. Get a good BTO, hopefully can get EC. Where ah? Your father and I want you to stay near us but see how, see where you want your children to attend primary school lor.”
My mum wasn’t the most romantic of women. Neither was my dad. My dad is the definition of the word “practical”. So I wasn’t brought up to be the most romantic or idealistic of person.
So if you had told me that I was going to give up my career, leave my family and move to London for LOVE. I would have been like “Sorry wrong number, not me”.
I studied Mechanical Engineering and Economics (it was the practical choice) and I had my Life Plan (it was a practical plan).
Step 1: Find a boyfriend. Nice normal Singaporean boy, cannot be too handsome. Handsome boys are never trustworthy.
Step 2: Study hard, get a good job (9 to 5, minimal OT please )
Step 3: Get a BTO.
Step 4: Get married.
Step 5: Have as many mini-mes as I can without growing crazy.
We would go for weekly family lunches with my side of the family, and dinners with his side. Everything would be structured and according to Life Plan.
In my mind, if I completed all five steps, I would have Succeeded at Life.
So how did I end up in London with my non-Singaporean husband, being a tour guide (FORGET nine to five), and balancing my laptop now on my seven month pregnant belly?
I have sadly, not Succeeded at Life.
How did it start….
I never saw a need to deviate from the norm, I excelled at the norm, I was the most outstandingly normal Singaporean girl growing up (or so I liked to believe).
Until I met G, the reason for the abandonment of Life Plan.
We liked each other, we dated, heproposedwegotmarriedwentonourhoneymoonwemovedtolondon in three months. Yes, proposal to moving: three months. (No I am not an SPG. Things just happened.)
Our life has pretty much gone on in that vein ever since.
Phase 1: Moving to London and abandoning Life Plan (i.e. not Succeeding at Life)
I’d just completed a management trainee program in a large MNC in Singapore and served my bond. My career was set, I had G, everything was on track for Life Plan. Until G asked me to move to London with him.
Just making the decision and breaking the news to my parents was awful. They felt that it should have been a FAMILY DECISION but I felt that it was MY DECISION to make. But I pretty much sat there and held my tongue while they told me off and told me how upset they were with me.
And to think I thought that was the HARD PART. HA. I thought the move and settling in itself will be EASY. Move to London, get my visa, get a job, and continue on Life Plan. It would take me three months, tops. (Spoiler alert: it took me closer to a year).
Firstly, moving was already surprisingly difficult. For someone who has only moved houses ONCE in my life. Packing up my life in 10 boxes and shipping it to another country, and then looking for a rental with the Husband, and then realising that there was this mystical concept of BILLS and TAXES (daddy, did i mention I love you?), and that dirty clothes don’t magically appear cleaned and back in my wardrobe (mummy, I love you too).
And I had to do all this in a new country which was sadly, not as efficient or easy as Singapore (PAP, I love you most, you da real MVP).
And yes big sis, I love you too. Haven’t figured out why yet but just so you don’t feel left out.
Once we were remotely settled in, we started on the visa application. It was long and arduous, and I shan’t bore you with the details but hey if you ever need help or have questions about it, reach out to me. I should know, I made the bloody application TWICE, and PAID TWICE. Just because of the simple but unavoidable issue of applying from the WRONG COUNTRY.
I needed to apply for it from SINGAPORE, not England (not mentioned explicitly on their website by the way...but i guess it was implicit in the wording and the Husband and I were just idiots).
So I couldn’t get my visa, which meant I was technically in London as a tourist and had to remain that way until we returned to Singapore to re-apply. And if I stayed on for longer than six months I would essentially be an ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT and would probably have to be deported. Yay free flight back but boo to illegal stuff.
And the main thing was...
I COULDN’T WORK.
What did I do? First I explored London top to bottom, then I cooked, then I baked, then I exercised, and then I collapsed on the kitchen floor and cried.
I cried and cried and screamed at the Husband when he got home that he had robbed me of my life. Doing nothing was so much harder than I thought.
I tried different things, I would call my mum everyday and yak for hours. This was also partly because I felt really unfilial for having moved away. I attended courses (you are now looking at a Certified Prince2 Practitioner, plus I know the basics of HTML and I can tap morse code so I’d make a really good spy like Tony Leung in Infernal Affairs) but nothing could fill that void in me that needed ACHIEVEMENT. I needed to Succeed at Life and my nine to five and BTO were nowhere in sight.
I even bought 2,500 second-hand books in a joblot and then started selling them one by one on Amazon (You are also looking at the founder of the now-defunct company called Second Shelf Life).
Which was actually very fun and amused me for about a month.
I. Was. Bored.
And that made me sobby. And angsty. And I blamed the Husband which wasn’t very fair.
He had signed me up for the courses I attended and he would organise treasure hunts around London for me on some days AND he arranged for us to visit a new country every month. To sound really English: Bless him. There really wasn’t anything else very much he could do.
And so ranted and raged and cried I did.
I KNOW this sounds really ungrateful. I was living the tai tai dream. I would get up late, basically do whatever I wanted until it was time to prepare dinner for the Husband, and that was it. I was the envy of many friends in Singapore and I didn’t want that to change.
“Wah you good life liao lor. Your husband go and work and you just be a tai tai.”
I did not want them to believe otherwise. I WANTED them to believe that I was living the dream, which only meant that I could not confide or complain to many people. PLUS I didn’t want my family to worry by complaining to them. And that made me feel even more alone and upset.
The Husband asked if I wanted to return to Singapore to get my visa done but that would mean being apart for at least three months and that would have broken my newlywed heart as well.
We flew my family over for a month, but we both knew that all these were just distractions and temporary measures to stop me from going crazy. I was 27! I NEEDED to be building my career and doing stuff.
How did we solve it?
We didn’t really. He came home one day after about five months in London and pretty much said “I hate my job, I want to live life” and I was all “YEAH YOLO!” and we bought plane tickets that very week for a four month road trip in six weeks time. Which gave me something to research and look forward to.
Remember when I said our life pretty much continued on in that vein? That crazy “let’s do everything in minimal time!!” vein? Yuupp.
We spent the next month packing, planning, booking camp sites and plotting our road trip from San Francisco to the tip of Argentina. We even gave away the plane tickets we had bought previously (remember when I said the husband bought us trips to go away every month? He had bought tickets for the entire year).
By the way, I had NEVER gone camping in my life (unless you counted OBS in Sec two). And now we were going to camp our way from LA to Argentina. I could practically SMELL people at home thinking:
“You siao ah”
Was I? All I knew was that if we stayed on in London the way we were, I really will kee siao.
My life was still nowhere near Life Plan, but at least I was finally doing something.
Phase 2: Four months in San Francisco and South America
This in itself will take too long to elaborate. I started a separate travel blog during this trip because I had this amazing ambition to become a travel blogger/Instagram influencer.
The Husband says it didn’t work out because I update it too sporadically.
I think it didn’t work out because I look like this while travelling:
Okay give me a break it’s not like I don’t try to look human. But the airlines lost our luggage and we bought everything from the outlet malls in Vegas so nothing matched. And this photo was taken 4, 200m above sea level. AND we had hiked about 14 hours the day before.
So my plan to become an Internet celebrity didn’t work out but on the BRIGHT SIDE, we didn’t die. We each slept with a knife under our sleeping mats every night that we were camping, the husband ended up collapsing three discs in his back while we were in Bolivia AND we spent all the money we were saving for our house down payment (this is me sadly waving goodbye to Life Plan).
On hindsight, why did we even do that crazy s**t....We were nuts.
But on hindsight, I’m now confident of handling anyone and anything. East London is dangerous? HA. CAN’T BE WORSE THAN THE MEXICAN BANDITOS.
You get the drift.
It was AWESOME.
Phase 2.5: Three months in Singapore and the Birth of London Top Sights Tours
We got back to Singapore in time for Chu Yi. My first year of having to give ang pao; we would be the most hated family if we missed that.
We spent three months in Singapore at my parents’ place; G gained about 6kg, we enjoyed the heat and not having 25kg backpacks and actually having a fridge, AND got my UK visa done.
But G was also doing some thinking.
SO. After he destroyed three discs in his back in Bolivia, we stopped camping and decided to just go on organised TOURS.
One tour cruise to see glaciers: USD600 per person.
One boat ride to see the penguins: USD120 per person.
One bus tour to Torres del Paine: USD190 per person.
I KID YOU NOT. It’s like locals assume tourists are made of money. And, suckers that we are as tourists, actually do pay for it.
And so G thought: “I am going to go back to London and make suckers of tourists now”. (Probably not a good thing for me to admit online if I want people to actually go on my tour).
So while I was enjoying time with my family in Singapore, G had come up with a tour route and was doing his research and groundwork for a tour company, and found a job back in a bank in London (he actually tried for Singapore first but alas it was not meant to be). He makes me feel really unproductive sometimes.
I like to think I get things done. The Husband, by contrast, he doesn’t just do stuff, he ACCOMPLISHES MISSIONS.
We flew back to London, spent a weekend (and G’s birthday) up in Yorkshire with the in-laws, and moved back to London, bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
Took us three days to move into a new rental house (partly because the airbnb we had booked for a week seriously freaked me out. We saw some dealers dealing to our neighbour while waiting for the key).
By day four the Husband and I were giving our first tour together (we had spent the previous day cramming English history), by day seven I was giving the tours while he was working in the bank. (Remember that Vein again? That Vein that is our life?) One thing I’m good at, faking an accent (which I find really annoying but necessary) and cramming facts.
SO. Here I am. Singaporean giving tours in London. I hate to even speak to people over the phone, I would much rather text. I get minor panic attacks just seeing unknown numbers calling me. “Omg who is this I don’t want to SPEAK to another human they going to think I’m weird and they will hate me OH DEATH AND RUIN.”
And I don’t like speaking to strangers face to face either because I think I’m horrible at normal human conversations. I tend to start mentioning my bodily functions, like:
“I would love to continue discussing the meaning of life but I need to poop now.”
It was not easy.
Plus I needed to be ENGAGING and ENTERTAINING to a large group of people. I had no idea how difficult it would be to hold the attention of 10 people who paid good money just to watch you point at things and talk about them. Seriously it made me realise that when I did relief teaching, I wasn’t even injecting half the energy I had into keeping the attention of my students.
“Did you major in History?” is a question I’m commonly asked.
No. I studied Economics and Mechanical Engineering in my pursuit of Life Plan Step 2.
I actually never got any flak from anyone except a lady who was Asian herself and said she expected to be shown around London by someone white (she said English but she was gesturing to the skin on her arm when she said English) and left at the start of the tour.
Also an old English lady once who walked right in the middle of my tour group and made disparaging remarks about me not being English. It was a HARRY POTTER tour! No one ever made the rule that only English can be Potterheads.
But hey, haters gonna hate.
It grew very quickly, within two months we had three guides working for us. In addition to furnishing our new rental house, getting everything out of storage (including the Husband’s 1,500 book collection), work, life…
I turned down a job offer as managing and expanding the tour company was more lucrative than working in an engineering company. Some things I didn’t consider:
- Having colleagues. I NEED FRIENDS. Running your own business can be quite lonely.
- Life Plan (Me waving goodbye to Step 2: nine to five job)
- Maternity benefits (JANG JANG JANG YOU KNOW WHAT IS COMING)
Two months after returning to London, we found out I was PREGNANT. (Cue: that same vein that G and I lead our lives)
So that explains why I was starting to get tired after giving two five-hour tours a day, and here I thought I was getting WEAK. HA. 10 hours on my feet shouldn’t have been a problem really.
NOW the adventure really begins.
To be continued. Part two of this story can be read here.
Photos provided by Ramona Koh.
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