Growing up all over the world sure had it’s plus points. I lived in some pretty amazing countries, visited beautiful places, was introduced to different cuisines, mixed with different cultures and I got to experience a life only some could dream of, all thanks to my dad.
When I moved back to the UK for University, I felt so out of place. The UK wasn’t a place I called home and it wasn’t until years later I finally felt settled enough in the country (& city) of my birth. I’ve been back in Glasgow for 8 years now, but that doesn’t stop me from missing the places I grew up in and it got me thinking about my favourite haunts, the food I miss & of course, the friends I left behind after an email from giffgaff. The post will probably be rather long if I spoke about Singapore & Kuwait in one post so I’m going to start with the place I moved to first; Singapore. I’ll get to talking about Kuwait another day.
Growing up here was a truly wonderful experience. For the first 6 months, I couldn’t get a place in school so I spent my days learning to swim in the hotel we were staying in, eating in Chinatown with my mom and being home schooled by my mom (who was a teacher). After those 6 months were up, I went to Tanglin Junior School for just under a year. I hated that school. I was bullied daily and because I was behind in school work, I had to go into the lower Maths class. That didn’t help the bullies. I had no friends in my own year and instead played with kids in the lower years. It was pretty sad but thankfully I soon left and moved to Overseas Family School. I loved that school and was even lucky enough to go to Thailand for a week as part of a school trip! I had so many friends from various countries such as South Korea, Australia, America and Germany. It was there that my accent started changing into the International School mashup that it still is some 20 years later. Forget French or German, at school we got to learn Japanese or Mandarin. I was pretty good at Mandarin, I could pronounce the words properly and read/write at basic level. Sadly, I’ve forgotten all of it after moving to Kuwait (and then learning Arabic).
My high school was just off of Orchard Road, the infamous street full of high end designer shops, shopping malls and some of the best restaurants around. Orchard Road was the main focal point for Christmas and Chinese New Year parades. Shopping malls would compete against each other for the best design. One of my favourite malls was Takashimaya (a Japanese mall) and Centre Point. I used to raid the stationary shops for pens, notebooks and stickers for my sticker album. I used to collect stickers as a kid, I had little books full of them and used to swap with friends. As a little weekend treat, when my mom was going to the supermarket, I used to get a Happy Meal at McDonalds. The toys were so good! So much better than the UK ones. Huge Hello Kitty Plush Toys anyone?!
Since those days eating in Chinatown, I’ve been extremely picky about Chinese food and I always feel the need to compare the quality with what I was used to. Luckily, I found Banana Leaf which serves amazing Malaysian/Chinese food with my childhood favourite Kai Lan and Hainanese Chicken Rice. However, I still miss eating at Hawker Stalls within People’s Park. It may not look the most hygienic place to eat but the food is cheap, great quality and authentic. Deep Fried King Prawns, Kai Lan in Oyster Sauce, Egg Foo Yung as well as Sweet & Sour Pork were my favourites. If you’re ever planning to go to Singapore, this is one place you need to go to. Kopitiams (Coffee Shops) are also great to go for breakfast; Roti Prata and Milo were my favourite staples.
Talking about Supermarkets, the food oh the food (yes, my life pretty much revolves around it!). Hello Panda, Pocky and Maggi Chilli Sauce are three things that til this day, I cannot live without. I get a regular supply from my local Chinese supermarket (Hello Mr Lim!) which is good. Addictive things. I used to walk to the little corner shop near our apartment for my daily supply for Hello Panda, or to buy some Diet Pepsi or Tiger Beer for my dad. That was my little job in the family. Of course, my trips wouldn’t take 10 minutes, 30 minutes later I’d still be chatting away with the family that owned the store brushing up on my Singlish dialect. I was pretty good for an ang mo (white person). I was also given my own Chinese name by the family, Mi Xiang (literally translated to Honey Fragrance).
Singapore is literally one of the cleanest places on Earth. There is no rubbish on the streets and if you drop litter, you are automatically fined. You can get fined for a lot of things such as not flushing the toilet (yes!), jaywalking, buying chewing gum and eating durians (awful awful stinky fruit!) in public. I loved chewing gum but because you couldn’t buy it in Singapore & it was even forbidden to chew it in public. We used to walk over the causeway bridge to Johor Bahru in Malaysia when my dad had to go there for work, so we could specifically buy chewing gum (as well as pirate DVDs) and then smuggle them back into Singapore. International chewing gum smuggler aged 8.
Of course there are also the tourist haunts, the Merlion has to be the most well known. The Merlion was been revamped so many times & when you think of Singapore, you associate this statue with the country. It’s a beautiful statue and I’ve had many a photograph taken next to it. It holds great memories for me visiting the statue with my grandparents and going on junk boat trips around the island.
My favourite tourist attractions though would have to be Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. I have so many memories of going to those places with my parents, my grandparents, aunt and uncle. One of the shows at the bird park allows you to have a Cockatoo bird fly into your hand to grab a $2 bill and then fly back with it. Anytime I was in the crowd, I instantly jumped up to be part of the show as I loved the bird flying over to me. Having a python wrap itself around my neck at the Zoo wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be, but I doubt I’d ever do that now! The Chinese and Japanese Gardens were beautiful. Giant Pagoda’s are amongst the Northern Chinese imperial gardens with tea houses and bridges galore. The Bridge of Double Beauty connects the Chinese to the Japanese Garden and you can get lost amongst the toro lanterns, traditional houses, ponds and bonsai. It is definitely one of my happy places.
However, the visit that stands out the most of everyone in my family was when I got my photograph taken with a family of Orangutans at the Zoo and the mother thinking I was one of her cubs (the joys of red hair as a kid!) grabbing me tight and checking my hair for head lice. I still laugh my head off thinking about that and even have photographic evidence. I could have been the female version of Mogwai from the Jungle Book!
Karaoke is also a huge part of the Singaporean culture and I immersed myself from a very early age. Children were allowed in bars so my parents took my brother & I along when they went sometimes (our “local” was Bermuda Triangle on Duxton Road) and I’d sit there with my Diet Coke, chat with everyone and make friends. I met my friend Kittina and her (now) husband Lye when I was 10 years old and til this day we are friends some 22 years later even though she was almost 10 years older than me. I used to sing Karaoke with my dad, our song was “A Whole New World” from Aladdin then I eventually branched out and sang songs such as Zombie from The Cranberries, Again by Janet Jackson, Hero by Mariah Carey and I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston… age 11. I rocked. Well thought I did. I could hit all the high notes but I’ve lost my golden touch now!
I adored Cantopop, in particular Jackie Chung. I learnt his songs off my heart and one night, he was actually outside the pub with Miss Hong Kong filming a music video. I was so excited that I grabbed some paper, pushed my way through the crowds of Chinese teenagers and asked for his autograph. I think he was shell shocked that a little white girl knew who he was and wanted his autograph!
Living and growing up in Singapore was a truly wonderful thing, I have so many memories that I will never forget and jumbled together makes me the person I am today
What are your favourite memories growing up? Did you live in any country other than the place of your birth? Let me know!