by Helena Cochrane
Beatrice Dufort Mallon came to Singapore in October 2021 with her husband Paul Mallon. Her stock self-description is “French, married to a British.” The original plan was to move to Hong Kong, but circumstances dictated that Singapore would be a better fit. They packed six suitcases, said farewell to their four adult children in the UK and came to make a new life here, landing on Beach Road.
What have you enjoyed more about Singapore than you thought you would?
What has been the most pleasant surprise? Conversely, what have you struggled with that you didn’t expect to be challenging?
I really love my ‘Club Med’ life style: this feeling of being constantly on holidays practicing my hobbies and discovering new things, new communities, new activities, new walks, etc. …The weather and constant heat contribute to that very specific feeling.
The only thing I ever struggled with is the discipline and the need to follow the rules to the letter. I had a frustrating moment at the beginning when I was forbidden from entering the MRT with an ironing board considered to be too big. Another occasion was at the community center to have one of the Covid boosters. I did forget that I was not in France where arguing is part of our everyday life!
What about Singapore culture has surprised you the most?
I am intrigued by the way society here is organized. On the one hand there is a strong focus on wealth creation and on the other a very strong sense of community responsibility. The government has a strong degree of control in some areas but in others enshrines freedoms, such as the freedom to practice any religion. As we live very close to the Sultan Mosque, I love hearing the daily calls to the prayer.
What hobby or activity have you finally been able to pursue in Singapore that you had wanted to previously? How has it influenced your time here?
Back in the UK, in my London home of over 30 years, I had recently taken up rowing, and extended my group of friends.
I was going to pursue this activity here, but thanks to Céline Suitor, ex AWA member, I discovered paddling on outrigger canoes. This has just been amazing, quite out of my comfort zone and at times challenging. It has given an extra dimension to my life in Singapore (it makes it even more Club Med like!) and twice a week I go canoeing in Sentosa; something I will not be able to do back in London, sadly!
This new way of life is also enabling me to concentrate on my art. I believe the new landscapes, the amazing vegetation, together with unique life experiences, have made me more creative. Most afternoons, I try to concentrate on painting, drawing, and conceiving images.
What habit(s) make you feel most settled in Singapore?
Having dinner most evening on our terrace overviewing the beautiful pool, and the lush local plants! We have many pictures we’ve bought during our travels and together with our greenery and orchids on the terrace, it makes us feel very much at home.
What did you do to meet people and form friendships as an expat? What advice would you give first-time expats?
I was incredibly lucky to meet Marta Rabins in our condominium pool when we first moved in. I told her I was looking for a walking group to which she replied ‘she was a walk leader’ and she very kindly invited me to join one of the AWA walks. I joined AWA then and continue being impressed with the people I have met. Also, the sister of a very good friend of mine from the UK lives in Singapore. I then joined a French group that organizes gatherings once a month. I’ve met more people at The Canoe Academy and Singapore Paddling Club.
Life is too short; let’s enjoy every walk, experience and each person we are lucky to meet at this present time.
What do you miss from home that you can’t find in Singapore? How would having that item in Singapore change or improve your experience?
I miss the proximity of my kids.
How many houses/apartments have you lived in as an adult? Do you still hang all the pictures and decorate all the rooms? Why or why not? Does your apartment/house here feel like home?
I have lived in four different homes since I have been married. As we came with suitcases only, I've made our flat here home. It probably looks more like a holiday house but I love it! Both the pictures acquired since we’ve arrived and some I have painted are on the walls, so space on the walls has started to run out … We will have to restrain ourselves!
What is your favorite Singapore holiday to celebrate (ex: Hari Raya Haji, National Day, Deepavali). How do you celebrate it?
Chinese New Year. I was going to decorate the flat accordingly but once I became aware of all the things that can bring bad luck, I thought better to keep it at the bare minimum!
What aspect of your personality has been a strength you’ve relied on while an expat?
As a child, due to my father’s job, we moved a lot around France - which is a lot harder than moving abroad in my view - I therefore had to adapt and make new friends from an early age. I moved to London as a young woman, where I met my husband and stayed! The original plan was only to learn English… I believe I am very adaptable and generally quite positive.
Did you live in a large city or in the country before you came to Singapore? What do you think of living in the city?
I have always lived in towns. As we say in France ‘Je suis une fleur de béton!’ (A flower - faded in my case- that grows in concrete) Therefore, so far, Singapore has been a real treat!
Since moving from Philadelphia in 2018, Helena has been active with AWA's Walking with Women, Writers' Group and International Vocal Ensemble, as well as with Urban Sketchers of Singapore. See her artwork on Instagram @helena_antolin_cochrane