(I started this post at the correct time and I'm posting it later).

According to my records, we left Singapore one year ago today (give or take, depending on your time zone), the day after National day. To commemorate this anniversary and National Day, we hung our Singapore flag that Bryan and Kris gave us when we left.

One year ago, the same flag was hanging on bookshelves at our place at Haw Par. (but Bryan was our personal photographer then, and his pictures were much better.) 

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I'm also commemorating the occasion by rereading "The Resident Tourist". Love that.

My blogging has gone by the wayside, but this seems like a good opportunity for introspection and reflection. What do I miss? What do I not miss? Four years ago as we were on our way *to* Singapore I wrote down my hopes and reasons for going. Did the experience meet my expectations? So… here goes.

First, it's hard to believe it's been a year. In some ways, so many things have happened, and of course in some ways, despite what people say, time has slowed down as we watch our Hamish develop into a little girl and see her amazement at each new thing. It's incredible to look back at pictures of her final Singapore days as an almost 2-month-old and compare to the ~14-month old she is now.

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It's hard to remember that she used to be none more than a little squiggle-worm, who couldn't move if we didn't help her and depended on her mommy for food every 1.5 hrs. Knowing how gorgeous we think she is now, I'm kind of surprised to see her at that age and realize just how much cuter she has gotten. I'm so thankful for the videos we have (example from a year agoexample from a couple weeks ago) from this progression, because I don't think my memory serves me well when I try to remember what she used to be like. I think that has a lot to do with the common adage that they grow up so fast.

It's also hard not to see *all* of this through a Hamish-filter, and I suppose that's fitting and proper. People commonly ask about missing Singapore, and our regular response is that it's very difficult to compare the Singapore life to the current life. Singapore was (mostly) a time before Hamish, when we could hop on a boat down by the airport and go scuba diving for the weekend, when we could plan trips to locations without excess concern about the safety of the food we'd eat or the fact we'd travel in tuk-tuks or motorcycles, when we could take bicycle rides across the island, and so on. Our life in Singapore changed of course when Hamish arrived, but now we're at a point when it's very difficult to imagine whether we really have it better with her here or if we'd be living better with her there.
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Another factor that plays a large role is our employment. I had a nice job in Singapore doing my post-doc, and Alli maintained her Boston-based job, able to maintain productivity and yet somewhat insulate herself from some of the work issues and expectations that she would attend this or that meeting. Of course, I was done with Singapore in part because I was done with my post-doc; I *could* have continued on, but I was finishing projects and would have needed to start new ones. I wanted to move beyond that to something I felt I could really keep building on. And even if I'd continued on in the post-doc for a little longer, there's a limit to that, and I'd have needed to start looking for the "real" job soon anyway.  

We chose Nashville based largely on proximity to family coupled with a little bit of enhanced density of employment options in the biotech realm. It wasn't *the* best place for me to go to find a job, but we weighted proximity to family heavily enough to counterbalance this departure from the ideal. Generally speaking, I am still looking for employment one year on. I have picked up part-time work editing scientific journal submissions from non-native English speakers. It's a fantastic gig in that they allow me to tell them how much work I want to do. I can turn it on and off at will, and it keeps my mind fresher by continuing to read the science literature. And there are still opportunities and people interested in my skill set, such that I believe Nashville remains a viable opportunity for my future work. In the mean time, Alli has been promoted to editorial director, and she has picked up some extra Nashville-based work that wouldn't have come along if we were not here. We have plenty, and we have an enviable setup where almost all of our work can be done from home (or anywhere else in the short term). I get to see Hamish's every development as I'm taking care of her while Alli does the full-time work, and if it's an exciting enough development, I just get Alli's attention and she doesn't miss it either.

So, there's pros and cons in there. I'm not fully employed, but we have plenty, and as a result of my not being fully employed, I have a very active role in my daughter's development. If we were in Singapore, I'd have stayed in the postdoc until something else was available. We may well have ended up hiring a live-in maid, as is commonly done there, for childcare. No idea what that would have looked like for us. We'd have had to find somewhere new to live again (thank God we got to skip that!!!)  

A maid would have been really nice in some ways, it's a unique situation in Singapore that allows that to be very affordable, but it would mean Hamish would essentially have a 2nd mommy. We would miss so much, and we'd be ceding our responsibility. It's hard not to feel like this is better for our lives right now. And I haven't even gotten into the fact that we can see our families now. We don't see them constantly, but they're not totally missing Hamish growing up either. I'm sure I do a better job of staying in touch when we're on the same time zone at least. There would be some real tension for us having Hamish in Singapore and our parents constantly asking when our next trip was. I do want to go back to Singapore again, but I would be okay if I could somehow do it without ever taking that flight again. sailing trip?

Well, as you can see, it's hard not to look at this through a myopic Hamish-sized lens. This post was meant to be somewhat about Singapore… 

So what do I miss? Well let's begin with a list of the top things about Singapore as we were leaving.
I don't necessarily miss every one of those things- in some cases there are definitely better (or more often really, easier) replacements. I loved that there was a great public transit system, but I also love hopping in my car and not worrying about when the next bus/train arrives. I definitely don't miss the 40 minute ride on a subway to work, but I might just as soon as I get a job with a 40 minute car ride commute. I do miss my work, not every last part about it, but the routine and the challenge, and I think, the autonomy. There were regular meetings and things I needed to do, but I got to design my day the way I wanted for the most part. Now someone else's schedule kind of dictates mine. We miss our small group at church. We've found a church we like very much here, but it is smaller and things are just done a little differently; we don't have the regular small group Bible studies that we had in Singapore. However, somewhere between the size of the church and the common culture, we feel more like getting to know most everyone in the church is a tangible accessible possibility. Though some more diversity wouldn't hurt.

I definitely miss elements of the food. I won't really say one option (here or there) is outright better- there's many things about the food here that I missed in Singapore (kale, fried okra, all other Southern cooking, more meat). I do kind of feel like I have more options that are easily accessible now (having a lot to do with the car). But if I could go buy some Wee Nam Kee or Tian Tian chicken rice, I'd do it right now. We found some durian here, but I could do with having that Toa Payoh stand of fresh ones somewhere around here. I have not found any Pho noodles to rival the ones at Takashimaya (except once in Seattle). I definitely haven't seen any good beef rendang here. But then we have good Ethiopian food here (Alli's birthday, I guess this never made the blog):

which is something I could not locate in Singapore. And the American hamburgers, at least when considering price, can't be beat (I'm not talking about mcdonald's, if there is any confusion). I think we'll get some barbecue pork tonight. I could have done that in Singapore too, but I would have had to go to that one place in East Coast that always took forever to get to… I could also eat a banana prata right now.

I miss some of the excitement of being in a foreign country-- even if it had mostly worn off by the end, a lot of it would probably come back if I were to visit again today. Stuff like the wet markets, there just is no equivalent here. Not that I bought fish there more than about twice, but it's just a window into something different and unique. I certainly miss the ease of getting to some other cool places. We were going back and forth about a trip to the Gulf coast this year, but we felt major sticker shock once we looked at prices. Most places were requiring a week or even 10-day stays at $200+/night. We saw these prices and yearned for the trips where we spent 80% of the trip cost on the flight, which still wasn't very expensive.

I love our seasons here. We have been blessed with an uncommon mild summer here, and the winter was pretty mild as well. Where days in July can commonly be up to 100 deg F, we had this one day that it was 65 deg F (18 deg C) and just *beautiful*. It was a reminder that the seasons change here and we have this gorgeous, awesome Fall to look forward to (it doesn't hurt that this is the season of college football and the excitement is just contagious and palpable). Knowing what to expect to wear everyday in Singapore was nice, but knowing in a couple of months I can wear jeans without sweating is also nice.

I miss monkeys, at least the possibility of them. We rent in a location where we have 2 views of wooded areas, and I catch myself seeing a branch wave and expecting to see a monkey swinging in the tree. Not that we saw these from the windows of either of our homes, but I still just have to remind myself "oh, monkeys don't live in this country". To make up for that we have seen a wild turkey and a deer in this area, and an owl eating a wild baby pig*. And way more bunnies than I'd like (they eat my garden). I like having a garden.

I'm trying to think if there's anything I'd really add to or take away from these lists. I guess I can't say that too much has really surprised me. There's this common condition called reverse culture shock when people have lived abroad and are surprised to find that they no longer fit in when they get back. I think this really applies to living in places where people have much less than Americans- I think most of what I have read is about people that did missionary work, say, in Africa, and come back to find they don't necessarily like all of the abundance and ease of our life, or the things that people value. I think Singaporeans don't necessarily value things much differently than Americans do. If anything, consumerism might be greater there, although it's certainly different. I think there definitely can be more emphasis placed there on getting ahead (kiasu)-- which I understand as a general Chinese concept, but one that is amplified by living in a small space with limited resources. This results in what I kind of think is ridiculous level of concern about educational development… well, really about test scores, rather than proficiency/learning. But on a national level I'm pretty sure SG beats the pants off the US, especially in science and math. I like that there's not prevalent kiasu here, but then we'd be better off if many Americans paid a bit more attention to their children's education. Singaporeans value family very heavily, which is a little different- mostly in that people are more likely to live closer together and many generations get together with standing dinner plans once a week and stuff like that (good and bad, it sometimes seemed like a chore for some friends, but obviously spending time with family is a good thing). Americans are definitely more likely to spread out around the country and only get back home at major holidays. 

Back to fitting in in America, I don't think we've had any problem reassimilating. We do live in a bigger city with at least access to a lot of diversity. We don't always lead into introductions with mention of Singapore, but usually when it comes up people are interested and intrigued. As a matter of fact, I don't think anyone here has made the mistake of confusing Singapore with China. There are definitely people who just kind of don't understand anything but America, and as such, they don't always care too much to ask any further questions about what life was like there, but it's not this weird disconnect between us and them.

I definitely do like many of the conveniences here. Our entire living space is kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter, closets, bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchen. I recognize this isn't the most cost-effective thing to do, but it sure is convenient. Not sweating while preparing dinner is a plus. We love our garbage disposal and our dishwasher. We love hot water from every faucet. And we love our car (though we don't always love other cars) and parking lots and buying a bunch of groceries in one shot. I hope that I at least gained a bit of extra appreciation for those things such that I don't take them for granted from here on, which I think is a bigger problem than just having so much, it's having so much and not even realizing that you have so much.

So, I guess my introspection/reflection does not uncover much that is new, but hopefully there's some value in hashing it out anyway. On the whole, we are happy and content with our lives here and now. So happy that we're buying a house! (something we could not have done in SG--as foreigners at least). We think we are where we're supposed to be, doing roughly what we're supposed to be doing. We definitely miss things from Singapore and certainly the people, but we're looking forward to at least another year here. We still love you Singapore! 'Merica, we love you too.

*we didn't actually see an owl eating a baby pig... but while sitting on our roof stargazing we overheard and witnessed a crazy commotion in a tree ahead of us. We batted ideas back and forth as to what was actually going on, and concluded that it had to be an owl eating a baby pig. seriously that's what it sounded/looked like in the dark.