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Gen Y Speaks: Leaving Singapore and my parents’ loving arms taught me how to adult

It was my dad who gave me the courage to take my current job in Beijing. But it was my mum who taught me how to live on my own.

The author is seen here in her apartment in Beijing. She works in advertising in the Chinese capital.

The author is seen here in her apartment in Beijing. She works in advertising in the Chinese capital.

It was my dad who gave me the courage to take my current job in Beijing. But it was my mum who taught me how to live on my own.

My father was an explorer. My earliest memory of us as a family was our trip to China in 1995, at a time when toilets had no doors. I was eight years old and my sister was five.

My family went on road trips, tried Airbnbs before they became Airbnbs and took the Eurorail across the continent.

My dad showed us how big the world is. In 2018 when I came home with a job offer in Beijing, he said “go!” without hesitation.

My mother’s reaction was the complete opposite. I saw her worry, anxiety and reluctance.

But I also knew she would come round to it. She knew it would be good for my career.

My mother slipped me a letter as I entered customs at Changi Airport. She was proud of me and could not help but fret over her daughter.

As with parents everywhere, we would always be their babies.

All that she was not used to expressing, she wrote it down. I cried all the way from Terminal 3 Gate 21 at Changi Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport.

At times, friends from Singapore expressed envy for my living abroad, on my own without attachments. Yet, the reality of it comes with its own set of practical challenges, especially in a foreign land.

I had never cleaned a toilet before leaving Singapore. Like most unmarried Singaporeans, I lived with my parents in a Housing and Development Board flat.

My mother kept the house clean and ironed my clothes. My dad prepared breakfast for me and my sister to take to work.

At the end of my first month in Beijing, my parents flew in for a visit to help me move into the place I had rented — a one-bedroom apartment about three-quarters the size of a three-room flat in Singapore.

They wiped, vacuumed, mopped and cleaned it top to bottom. I was left in a corner to do the paperwork and set up payment arrangements for the gas and water.

In my third month in my rental apartment, my landlord commented: "How can a girl’s toilet be so dirty?”

I was ashamed. At 31, I could not keep a toilet bowl clean.

My landlord suggested I get a part-time helper, but I had promised my mother that I would clean the apartment by myself.

As I tried to recover from my shame, memories of my mother sharing DIY cleaning tips came back to me. Slowly, my landlord’s remonstrations became less frequent.

The author (extreme left) is seen here with her family during their last vacation together at the El Parque de Retiro in Madrid, Spain in October 2019.

I came to terms with ironing and started folding my clothes neatly — chores my mother took care of back home.

Before, I refused to make my bed, reasoning with my mother that I would mess it up again the same evening.

One Sunday afternoon, I ironed with a memory of my mother doing the same with a similar piece of clothing. That day, I also made my bed and cleaned the apartment from top to bottom, just like how she did it.

Back in Singapore, it is easy to forget that our parents are near enough to catch us when we fall.

There were days I returned home heartbroken. My mother never once asked for details; instead, I would see a bowl of soup left on the table for me. It felt like a hug in a bowl.

Away from them, I would return to an empty apartment desolate but having to muster the last ounce of energy to bathe or get food.

This feeling was further amplified the two times I was down with fever. In China, there is no concept of “clinics”. There are pharmacies and then there are hospitals.

I grew to distrust their medication and yet a fever is not a strong enough reason to visit a hospital.

Both times, I lay in bed until the worst of it passed. I ordered too much porridge just to meet the minimum order; I wished desperately for my mother’s plain fish porridge or my father’s minced pork with egg yolk version.

Leaving Singapore, in itself, did not do wonders for me. It was leaving my parents’ lovingly supportive arms that taught me the finer details of adulting.

Without them to catch me, I have learnt to care for myself — to eat so I would not fall sick, to calibrate my work life so I have the strength to clean the apartment, and to not screw up because no one would be making me soup.

Thank you, mummy and daddy.



Cheang Yit Shan is a Singaporean working in advertising in Beijing, China.

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Gen Y Speaks career family expatriates

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