12 Years an Expat: my journey through Australia, Israel, Japan and China

I came back to Singapore largely due to practical reasons. I needed to be here to publish my debut novel The Little Light and set up Mith Books: my very first venture.

But now that all that’s done, I can’t help but wonder – where will life take me next? There is an old proverb, ‘Blessed be that which gives your children roots and wings’.

Many people travel for personal and professional reasons. But to actually leave home, uproot yourself and plant yourself in a new country is a whole different ballgame. Over the years, I’ve met many expat kids who get hauled from country to country because of their parents’ jobs. I’ve watched many of them enter adulthood wondering where ‘home’ is.

I can’t say I fully understand the sentiment. I spent my formative years growing up in Singapore. There’s never been any doubt in my mind about where home is. As Robert Frost once said, ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.’

My family’s been here for five generations. Having said that, my upbringing was fairly atypical compared to most Singaporeans. I am a minority within a minority. I come from a family of merchants and was exposed to many different cultures growing up. My mum’s side of the family is British, so I often found myself in the UK over school holidays.

I always saw the world as a small connected place. By the way – you should, too.

So it was only natural that I left home at the age of twenty. Whenever people ask me if I miss XYZ country, my answer is always the same, “I do remember it and think of it sometimes. But no, I don’t miss it.”

Come to think of it, I have the same philosophy about my ex-boyfriends…

Australia

When I went to Australia in 2007, I knew nothing and no one. But in the course of my life there, I made friends from all over the world. My Melbourne years presented the opportunities that led to other bigger and better opportunities.

When the time came to leave five years later, it was painful. Five years is a long time. Long enough to plant roots and grow attached to them. There was a big part of me that wanted to be elsewhere. But I’d somehow grown comfortable to a life that I wasn’t even sure I wanted. After a lot of internal resistance, I finally left in 2013.

When I briefly returned to Melbourne in 2018, I can’t say that I cared much to be back there. But the girl who left Australia was not the same girl that ventured there.

And that was that.

Israel

Israel was the place that set my heart on fire. My world expanded so far beyond the boundaries I had in my mind. My journey through Jerusalem exposed me to the three major Abrahamic religions. It got me questioning my life and humanity’s larger purpose for existence.

I’d been agonistic before going to Jerusalem and it was there that I developed my interest in spirituality, world mythology and religion. Those experiences would later inspire the novels I would come to write. Whether you hate it or love it, Jerusalem is one of those places that will leave an imprint on your soul.

I was there for around nine months, but my time in Israel remains one of the most formative periods of my adult life.

And I will never forget thee, O Jerusalem…

Japan

Oh, where do I begin?

It was in Japan that I made the transition from a young adult to maturity. It was in Japan that I learnt that in addition to the responsibilities I had to my family and friends – I had a greater responsibility towards society and my community. I met people from all walks of life and from all strata of society.

I finally got the grooming I needed to grow on a professional level. The Japanese work ethic is unparalleled. In addition to being experts at the art of managing impressions, the Japanese are also a deeply practical and industrious people who take great pride in their work.

Their discipline and dedication in ensuring that a job is well-done is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

China

After the structure and stability of my Japan years, I needed a little something to remind me of that fire that still burned in my veins. I was only in China for a few months, but I will say that it made me adaptable, resilient and street-smart very quickly. It is not the type of place where you can go through life with the blinkers on.

The corruption there is atrocious and it showed me the problems that arise when wealth appears in one’s life without a larger vision and purpose.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it and I can’t say I want to see anything like it ever again.

But my time there served its purpose. And for that, I am thankful.

Concluding Remarks

Each culture I’ve encountered has moulded me and shaped me in someway. I’m not sure where I’ll hop off to next, but one thing’s for sure.

My feet are itchy and they want to go somewhere far far away…

Author: Dipa

Founder of Mith Books

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