Coming Home...

The Carey-Zampa team is leaving Singapore and returning to Lafayette. Once they get over the culture shock, that is...


Time sure flies when you're sweating like a Soprano with his back to the door at an Upper East Side restaurant.

Two years ago, I was new to living in Singapore. I was in a fog of humid uncertainty, mixed with loneliness and squeamishness (it was Durian season). The two-year contract with Mike's company loomed endlessly ahead.

I've learned a lot in the last two years. I learned that any time Mike suggested a shortcut, it wasn't. I learned Jell-O is $12, a liter of gin is $72, and a leather armchair is $17,000. (But it's the same leather used in a Ferrari, the salesman earnestly told me when my jaw dropped.)

Most importantly, I learned that Durian -- the fruit that looks like a weapon and frankly, the odor could fell armies -- does taste like it smells, a mixture of sweaty socks and dirty jockstraps.

And now it's over.  Mike's work contract is up this month, as is our lease. Our furniture ---  including most of the  Zip-lock bags I moved here two years ago --- starts chugging across the ocean in two weeks. So, unless the perfect new job is offered in the next few days, we are following our stuff back to Lafayette.

Two years ago, I would have left here without glancing  back. But two years ago, I was nauseated every evening; a sign of anxiety, according to webMD. My doctor confirmed it, adding that I was also dehydrated due to massive sweating (which explained the hair loss as well). Two years ago, I was missing my friends. I missed my home. I missed autumn in Lamorinda; there are no seasons in Singapore.

When I finally forced myself to leave my safe haven on the 21st floor, I found other women going through the same transitions. We did tours to get to know the culture and history of our new country. We explored Little India, Arab Street, Chinatown. We learned how to play Mah Jong. I joined a writers group and a book group. It's been pretty darn great, like living in a blissful bubble.

So now, my euphoria is tempered with the things I'm leaving behind.  I'll miss never having to need a sweater, no matter what time of day or night. I'll miss assigned seating at the movie theaters. I'll miss our doormen, who always give a hand with the groceries. I'll miss my always-smiling helper, who irons and does windows. Most of all I'll miss my friends and the camaraderie that goes along with the feeling of being in the same boat -- we are all away from our homes and relatives, but we are making the best of it. I'll miss the smart, interesting, fun, gutsy women I've met here, but -- unlike when I left Lamorinda  -- I probably won't see a majority of them ever again.

I'll miss some of the day-to-day curiosities that go with living in a different culture. For instance, Singaporeans rarely walk around smiling, but this doesn't mean they hate me (always my first assumption). They also will never initiate a casual conversation. But when I do, they are lively and warm.

I'll miss the taxi drivers, who are considerate, law-abiding and often funny. After traveling to various Southeast Asian countries in our time here, I am always relieved to come back and get a taxi driver who doesn't drive on sidewalks.  However, most cabbies are not fluent in English. I've become adept at saying "yes," "wow" and "really?" accompanied by a hearty chuckle to the talkative ones that I don't understand. And the taxi drivers that speak English well enough to ask what job my husband does and how much rent we pay --- well, they're probably the ones who are rumored to be government informants.

Things I won't miss: The crowds. Singaporeans shop for fun, and masses of them converge on the 22 malls within a few blocks of my house. Eighty percent are texting while walking. Once a guy banged into me hard. It's the only time in two years I've dropped the F-bomb at a local. 

I won't miss the grocery shopping. You can't argue with managers of grocery stores because they are always right, even when they are wrong. Ask for cilantro, and they will give you Chinese parsley. Explain that is not cilantro but they insist it is. Ask for corn tortillas, and they show you their 12 brands of flour tortillas.

Restaurants are a learning curve all their own. If you want to drink water, you must specify if you want it to be cold, otherwise it will be room temperature.  Only one or two menus are left per table, no matter how many are in the party. Food is served as soon as it is ready, which results in staggered eating. I once didn't get served my dinner until long after Peter and Mike had finished their meals.

After traveling to various other Southeast Asia countries I learned to appreciate the cleanliness and safety of Singapore. The streets are pot-hole free and the jungles that would ordinarily encroach are maintained just enough to make this island lovely. Except for the part where lawbreakers are hung on Fridays, Singapore is Disneyland. Everything is planned to seeming perfection.

But it's not realistic, nor is it normal. Ninety-percent of the women I've talked to here say their husbands don't really have male friends; most travel too much. It's up to the wives to come up with a social life, and even if you get along great with the wife, getting together as couples is often a different story. It's a far cry from meeting lifelong friends on the soccer field or Little League bleachers. Female relationships here are also different; longtime expats often don't invest in meaningful friendships because your best friend could up and leave next month. I've already lost four friends to other countries.

And now I'm one of those friends.

I can't wait to have coffee at Peet's and a Cosmopolitan at Amoroma. I want to walk around Lafayette Reservoir, followed by breakfast at Chow or La Boulange. I want to shop at the new Farmer's Market in Lafayette, where  I'll actually be able to identify the vegetables for the first time in two years. I want to smell cold air. I want to see leaves that change color and I want to light a fire in my fireplace. I want to wear a coat. I want to walk around my town without being suddenly accosted by the stench of Durian.

Our family has so much to be grateful for in our Singapore sojourn. Peter got to play three sports his senior year at Singapore American School and made friends for life. Lauren loved the different cultures. Mike loved Ice Kachang. I am grateful for all of it, but especially for the strong women with whom I've had the privilege of sharing this adventure. 

But what I am most grateful for is the wonderful home, friends and community to return to.

See you soon.

Miles VanBuren September 07, 2012 at 02:27 PM
I think this article would have been better titled "The Lamorinda Princess Abroad Returns Home". I am certain there are a lot of people in the pearl of the orient sighing a great sense of relief that the westerner is gone for good.
Craig September 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Great article -- thanks! You'll love the new Farmers' Market. :-)
Lisa Wrenn September 07, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Lynn, what a lovely piece of writing. So excited you're finally coming home.
Alison Jordan September 07, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Absolutely beautiful - a joy to read! Interesting item to see as I sip my hot curry soup (in my AC'd house) made fresh by the Indian health food store owner who remembers the delicious papaya in Singapore 23 years ago on her honeymoon. I look forward to seeing you on either coast!
Matthew Pease September 07, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Lynn...welcome back to you and Mike....and despite Mr. VanBuren's comments, I am sure your friends back in Singapore will miss you also.
Donna Hartke September 07, 2012 at 09:03 PM
What fun to read! You nailed expat life in Singapore. I have to take exception with a couple of things, however. Durian tastes like rich raspberries and cream if you get the best variety and Singapore does have seasons: hot and humid, hot and rainy and HOT enough to drown in your own pool of sweat. I wish you and your family a happy repatriation.
Tim Davis September 07, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Wow. Really? Seems a little harsh.
Janelle More September 07, 2012 at 11:54 PM
A great read Lynn, made me laugh. On board my Singapore-bound flight in SFO after spending some glorious weeks in the Bay Area, I already miss the fantastic farmers' markets and perfect weather and glistening San Francisco. I hope to cram as much time as you can tolerate doing our thing in Singapore before you leave--reflexology perhaps?
Chris Voll Chernin September 08, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Lynn...what a wonderful piece of writing!! We'll be thrilled to have you all back...in any combination....I'm only sad we didn't make it to see you.... Xoxo
Donna September 08, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Wow.. Loved reading your article. I have been in Singapore for nearly 4 years and I think I spent the first 12 months crying! Now, I am in my 3rd year of law school and loving Singapore! We are lucky, we probably have another 4 or 5 years here, but I too will look forward to heading home and enjoying the 4 seasons of my beautiful Melbourne Australia. Good luck with your move! Donna
Joe Faber September 08, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Great article Lynn. And excited you and Mike are coming home.
Miles VanBuren September 08, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Sorry but what I perceive are prejudice writings against an Asian culture is offensive to this reader. Your visit to this country was based on an employment contract not a permanent relocation so how can criticize not making "lifelong friends" when your entire circle of friends are also on employment contracts. To criticize a culture that that you perceive "does not smile" is a further insult to the Asian people. A culture that values honor and respect does not walk along public streets seeking validation as the brash westerner with head up smiles from everyone they meet. Seems like you forgot you were a guest in their country.
Daniel Archuleta September 08, 2012 at 05:06 PM
I just didn't get that from her story at all. Sorry.
cspm September 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Miles, you need to do some volunteer work, practice yoga, and perhaps explore your feelings about women in general, and your mother in particular.
Patrice Martens September 08, 2012 at 05:33 PM
You're entitled to your perceptions.... even if they are off base.
Jose September 08, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Not everybody is a world traveler. She didn't pick Singapore. She was put into a situation that she described as personally stressful. She is excited to have survived her adventure, learned some new skills, and to be headed home where she is at ease. It's her story. Let her tell it. Anyone who can get past the smell of durian, and actually put it in her mouth to try it, is making an effort to try new things, no?
Meagan Scott September 09, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I think she was trying way too hard to impress us with her writing skills and clearly did not realize that the way she depicted the Asian culture by poking fun of their people, food and culture was less than flattering. My suggestion would be for her to do some volunteer work with the Asian community when she gets back to Lafayette to better understand how hard it is for Asian Americans to overcome prejudice and avoid racial stereotypes. She clearly does not get it from her writing.
Brad Katkowsky September 09, 2012 at 05:54 PM
How very PC. Or, we could just leave her to her opinion and decide if we find it true, or false, or just entertaining..... instead of sending her to a reeducation camp to make sure she comes out thinking the way you do.
Chris Nicholson September 09, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Give me a break. Lynn's piece reads like someone who just wanted to share her experiences. I think that's great. People who find Lynn's writings to be offensive to Asians (or others) are, IMHO, hypersensitive--- maybe they should write a piece about how Western observers are insulting about their commentary about what they observe in Asia. I would love to read it..... I'm am quite sure that when foreigners visit us, they find many of our idiosyncrasies to be odd and notable. I experience that when I visit the South or NYC, for example.
Ian Lipnicky (still a SportsFan) September 09, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I didn't detect any bigotry or maliciousness on her part. I thought she was rather nice, actually. I would divorce before I would allow my wife to drag me off to Singapore for work.
Lori September 10, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Nice piece, Lynn. Thanks for sharing your experiences as an ex-pat in Singapore. Sorry that a couple of your readers don't seem to have a sense of humor, or don't get that you are allowing us to live vicariously through you. You are honest, and admit that at first it was tough to be uprooted. You are honest, and admit that eventually you grew to love many things and many people in your temporary home. I've enjoyed all your postings about being a stranger in a new place. Safe travels, Lynn!
Dennis September 10, 2012 at 02:16 AM
I'm one of the many people who thought this was a delightful and very personal piece. As always, thank you, Lynn, for your wonderful writing. I've been a fan for years!
Laney September 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Lynn--I love how your writing and perspective allowed me to live through you. I feel like I know so much more about a place I didn't know much about before. I think the haters on here should find a new writer to follow, as you are true to yourself, your family, your experience and your talent. I hope you don't change a thing. Keep doing your thing, girl!
Patti September 13, 2012 at 01:39 AM
We are just astonished that anyone who knows Lynn would jump to such ridiculous and petty conclusions. She honestly poured out her heartfelt emotions both happy and sad, which pertained to dragging her whole family overseas to a foreign country. She has made life long friends who will never forget her and we sure feel she is leaving Singapore a much better place. Chill out Mr. Van Buren!
Patti September 13, 2012 at 01:41 AM
The above was a collaboration of Nancy, Leslie, Jane and Patti...her Skype friends in Lafayette.


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