Sarah Gormley was working in design and architecture in London when she and her husband decided to up sticks for Hong Kong. Now a mother of two girls, Evelyn and Gracie, she reflects on instability, street food, and placing yourself outside the expat bubble

The long and short of it
My parents always taught me that education and travel were two of the most important things in life. So I guess it’s not that surprising that we’ve spent the last three years abroad – we started off in Hong Kong and have now relocated to Singapore. The opportunity to move to Hong Kong suited both of our careers at the time – I work in architecture and my husband in marketing. We always wanted to travel and felt that it was better to do it whilst our children were little (at the time we just had a one-year-old, Evelyn. Gracie was born in Hong Kong 18 months later). So we left our lovely leafy neighbhourhood in North London and moved to crazy Hong Kong.

It was a great experience and we made some wonderful friends but Hong Kong is tough with kids – you can’t just push them out in the pram as there are no proper pavements, and the pollution is so bad some days you don’t even want to leave your home. We weren’t ready to return home quite yet, so we decided to move to Singapore which we felt would be better for family life.

The way we live now
We now live in a low-rise condo with plenty of lawn for the girls to run around on (as opposed to the 30th level in Hong Kong) and our ground-floor apartment is about three times the size for far less rent. We’re a block from the beach and a lovely promenade so the first thing we did was all buy bicycles so we can go for sunset rides!

We lived in quite an ex-pat area in Hong Kong and I yearned for a more grounded community, so this time around we’re living in a far more local area but there’s still great shops, cafes, restaurants and schools which I can walk to. It feels like a real neighbourhood with people here to stay, and I love that. We chat to our neighbours and the kids from our block all play together everyday outside from about 5 to 7 every night – they do outdoor painting, cycling, swimming, chasing…. My kids spend about 80 per cent of their time outdoors. We would never have that back home in the UK.

Highs and lows
The food is just amazing. The hawker stands here sell the best street food – everything from ramen to roast chicken, dumplings, curry… the list is endless. It’s all so delicious, very authentic and better than most of the fancy restaurants for sure. You just go to the one with the longest queue and order what everyone else is having, we don’t know the names but just point.

It is hard relocating and you do miss family for sure. Back home, my mum lived down the road from me. But friends help. Although it’s so important to find people who are like-minded. You do meet a lot of people living in an ex-pat bubble, grumbling about what they don’t like and what they miss, and if you surround yourself with that, it can bring you down. Just as you are back home, being discerning with your friends is important.

Bringing up baby
Childcare here for the little ones is very expensive so a lot of families have the “Aunties” to help. We’re so lucky to have a wonderful lady who helps look after my little ones and does the cleaning. Generally it’s hard for the mums to find work in Singapore. But there seems to be a “mumpreneurship” spirit, which I also found in Hong Kong. Lots of networking, home businesses and unofficial work to fit in around the kids. It’s great to tap into that.

Singapore is expensive – it’s about the same as living in London – but we never did this move to save money. It was about having an adventure. I know it sounds a cliché but I really have grown and changed since we’ve lived abroad. Your eyes are just open to other, new exciting possibilities and alternative ways of living.

But this is our last move for sure – the next one will be back home to London. We’re just not sure when that will be yet. We’re loving Singapore so much at the moment, so who knows. But certainly I do worry about stability for the girls, especially when it comes to schooling. I’d like the girls to have that real sense of belonging.

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