‘What did you prefer? Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo?’
This is the question I get asked the most when explaining I’ve spent the past 17 years living and working in Asia. A very valid question, I’m sure I would probably ask the same. Yet impossible to answer. This week our time in Asia comes to an end. We bid farewell to the amazing continent we have called home and relocate back to London. This is an experience fraught with nerves, anxiety, and excitement. Throw Covid into the mix and it’s even more challenging. As I write this, all I can hear is the rip of masking tape as the packers box up our belongings.
We were babies when we moved to Tokyo. I followed my then-boyfriend, who had been offered a role in Tokyo. Truth be told, we were initially reluctant. Thankfully his manager forcefully told him ‘you don’t turn down a role like this. Go and accept it and you’ll be on a plane first thing Monday’.
I had spent some time backpacking around Southeast Asia but nothing could prepare us for the onslaught of the coolest capital in the world. We loved every second of our three years in Tokyo. It’s no surprise we had visitors practically every weekend. Japan can be intimidating price wise so when you have a free place to stay in Tokyo, you have to make the most of it! Lost In Translation had just been released and Tokyo was on everone’s mind. Footloose and fancy-free, we worked and played hard (often ending the night at a karaoke bar). The culinary scene is next level and we enjoyed some of the best food in the world (in fact my favourite Italian and Chinese restaurants are in Japan). We were astounded by the politeness and courtesy of the Japanese. We were wowed by the whizzing bullet trains. We had our coziest night’s sleep on a tatami floor in small ryokan (guest houses). We travelled the country, experiencing the marshmallow powder snow of Niseko to temples of Kyoto.
Three years later and we had itchy feet. Lucky for us, Hong Kong was beckoning. Another bustling Asian capital to call home. I maintain to this day that the glittering Hong Kong skyline is unbeatable. We found ourselves living in a highrise on the edge of a hill in Midlevels. This is truly the city that never sleeps. Wild nights out were temporarily interrupted by the birth of my oldest daughter Daisy. That was when Jetlag & Mayhem was born. I was traveling longhaul frequently with a baby and couldn’t find a resource that spelled out the real side of family travel. Two and a half years later my youngest daughter Sky showed up and (along with our rescue dog Wispa), we became a family of four.
Hong Kong runs at a frenetic pace but head 15 minutes out of Central and you’ll find greenery and beaches. In fact, the hiking trails are world-class. We were also introduced to ‘junk boat season’ in Hong Kong. Club together with a group of friends and you can find yourself on a rickety wooden boat sailing the South China Seas for the afternoon.
After a decade in Hong Kong, we welcomed the chance to move to the Lion City. The slower pace, green spaces and year-round tropical heat was a refreshing contrast. Pre-Covid Singapore was an amazing springboard to South East Asia. I am grateful we travelled as much as we could from Java to Ho Chi Minh to Bangkok. Singapore is such a melting pot, one of my favourite things to do here is eat. You can head to the hawker centres and chow down on delicious cheap fare.
I have learned so much living overseas. Friends become family. Work colleagues take the time to introduce you to their culture and families. There is nothing better than expanding your mind and learning from others. I am proud that my daughters speak Mandarin. I am proud to say we have spent the last 17 years living overseas.
Covid took away the ability to live overseas but feel connected to our family back in the UK. We took it for granted that our family could visit and we could travel back to the UK each year. Singapore has extremely strict rules when it comes to foreigners entering and leaving the country. Restricting our trips home to see the family has meant that we couldn’t sustain a life overseas. Plus it was time to return and root the kids somewhere. It’s difficult to watch them continually say goodbye to friends. This morning we said goodbye to our amazing Ligaya who has been with us for 11 years. She is retiring to finally be with her own family in the Philippines. Whilst we were devastated to part with the heart of our family, we are so happy for her next chapter.
I am leaving Asia with a heavy heart but looking forward to exploring my hometown and beyond. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity and can’t wait till the world opens up again.
p.s. If you see me, please don’t ask me which city I preferred to live in. They were all wonderful.