Interviewed by Helena Cochrane
Keng-I Lin moved to Singapore from Hawaii in early September of this year, with her husband Philip and elementary school aged son Vincent. She tells me there are significant differences in these two tropical environments, and that Singapore’ s urban character has had quite an impact on her. Raised in Taiwan, Keng-I moved to the US for graduate school in 2004, earning her advanced degree in nutrition. She is now living in Asia again for the first time in 19 years. She shared some insights about this very special circumstance.
Did you know much about Singapore’s geography before coming to live here?
I knew that Singapore is an island. A very small island. Taiwan, Hawaii are also small islands, but Singapore is even smaller. When my family and I watched some BBC Wildlife Singapore series, I began to look forward to having connections to nature here.
What have you enjoyed more about Singapore than you thought you would?
Chinese herbal drinks. Because I walk more, I see significantly more Taiwanese boba shops to choose from here compared to Hawaii. With more intense tea and chewier boba!!!
I especially like 羅漢果 monk fruit, that my maternal grandmother would use to brew drinks from the fruit directly. They’re good for the throat.
What has been the most pleasant surprise?
Hiking in nature. Singapore is urban, but there are still many places with nature to escape to! Anywhere I can, I look for plants and flowers. There’s Ulu Pandan Park Connector, Admiralty Park and MacRitchie Reservoir, which I've explored with AWA.
Conversely, what have you struggled with that you didn’t expect to be challenging?
Singapore is very good at repairing and constructing new infrastructure and continues to modernize. I found it challenging to face air pollution from constructions, trucks and car exhaust, made harder by high humidity. Overuse of plastic bags. I am used to my more eco-conscious home in Hawaii.
What habit(s) make you feel most settled in Singapore?
During my three months here, I’ve been gifted with the time and space to reflect and consider my likes and dislikes, strength and weakness. With my passion for wellness, of individuals' physical, emotional and mental health, as well as the health of our planet, I have been working on getting to where I can promote better food choices and activities for my widening social circle, someday my professional circle too. I am grateful for the challenge of contributing to society with volunteering in leading the AWA Walk and Hike group. I am fortunate to have more time here for making new friends as an adult. It’s a skill for me to focus and progress on.
Have you or do you volunteer with a group that serves Singaporeans and how has that enhanced your living here?
I’ve signed on to lead hikes with the AWA Walk and Hike group. My mood is much improved after forest bathing, exercising and chatting (self-expression) with other walkers.
What life lesson have you learned during your time in Singapore? Do you have any sayings or mantras that you tell yourself when you are homesick or experiencing cultural frustrations?
One important thing I am realizing is that I can still be enough and contribute lots to family and society without a paid job! I want to focus on the good things in life, such as basic comforts. I think of people who are working hard-labor jobs, riding in the back of the pickup van in hot and humid environments.
As girls, my sister and I helped our dad pack seeds for his horticulture business. Growing up, I was conditioned to be as frugal as possible, and also never get anything from the store unless necessary. When I am able to overcome that and "treat" myself, I can be resilient in the face of hardship.
I process frustrations and homesickness to help me understand myself more and pick out what's important to me. Things that bother me are opportunities to uncover what values I hold. I can reframe and examine where things stand now, instead of drawing only on my old memories.
Everything is temporary, even homesickness and adjusting to a new life. I am lucky, and grateful.
What do you miss from home that you can’t find in Singapore?
I especially miss the Hawaiian aloha spirit of yielding to each other in traffic. I miss the easier pace of life I had there.
How do you dress to “fit in” as an expat in your new home?
I noticed people wearing more plain-colored clothes. It seems there's a need to dress more conservatively with the culture of women covering up. But it's so hot….. I am still working on balancing and arriving to my new dressing style here in Singapore.I got a cat call from a teenager near the school. I was pretty annoyed and surprised by it.
Is your quality of life different in Singapore than it was before you were an expat? What aspect of it would you like to preserve?
I struggled with the status of being a ”dependent” Good news: I have recently learned of my husband’s status of immigration exemption order(IEO), which grants me the privilege to work, with letters of consent (LOC). The possibility of local employment will be a relief, to be not limited, and connect and contribute to the local community. .
What aspect of your personality has been a strength you’ve relied on in this transition to Singapore?
I once heard that like all superheroes, I have two names. And people ask me, which name is the hero? I feel it depends on the situation.
My strengths are my bravery, adventurousness, and cheerfulness. I want to preserve my identity as an eco-friendly warrior!!!! No more plastic bags, keep bringing my own water bottle.
I really value stability, routine, and cleanliness. I am organized, and introspective. I am discovering ways to meet my need for vastness, quiet and nature here in Singapore.