When I was back in Shanghai, most of my expat friends really wanted to relocate to Singapore. It didn’t really matter what country they were from – Switzerland, the States, Nigeria, the Netherlands – each and every one of them mentioned that if they had the chance, they would pack up their bags and move to Singapore tomorrow. Who can blame them?

Life in Singapore

Singapore has great weather if you love the sun. It is literally hot here all the time. And on days when it rains, the rain usually lasts for only half of the day and then the sun comes right back out. This is a stark contrast to Shanghai where winters are actually cold and the temperature can drop below freezing regularly. When it comes to weather, Singapore is a no-brainer.

But now in a COVID world where travel is restricted, moving to Singapore for most people is not really an option. Actually, moving anywhere for most people is not an option. In Southeast Asia travel has been restricted due to COVID and people are generally not booking flights. Moreover, expats are not traveling to see their families back home.

Don’t get me wrong Singapore is a great place to live. Actually in all of the places that I’ve lived, I find Singapore to be the best in terms of air quality and cleanliness and variety of things to do. When I used to travel every month the convenience of living in Singapore was invaluable. A flight to the Maldives is only four hours away, Anna flight to Bali is less than two hours away. I miss the days when I used to plan weekend trips for the family and I to Bali or to some other nearby location.

Me and the boys in Bali, 2013

Since COVID our way of life has changed drastically. We don’t take weekend trips anywhere really period to be honest we haven’t even had a staycation in Singapore despite it being one of the alternative vacations that many people rave about we just haven’t had time to do it. So the biggest adjustment about staying in Singapore now is getting used to not being able to travel to any of the really nice nearby locations.

I shouldn’t complain too much though because I know that many people are stuck just where they are. My friends back in Shanghai many of them wish to go back home and see family but they don’t because they’re not sure they can get back into China after they leave. This uncertainty about being able to return to ones job or home definitely dampers any idea of travel.

It’s still really hard to believe that the world has changed so much over the course of a year and a half. I still recall back in January of 2020 when I was in my Shanghai apartment and I started to get news of the outbreak in Wuhan. It was such a surreal moment. It escalated so quickly from a few cases of people getting sick to hundreds of people getting sick and the entire city of Wuhan being locked down.

A Big Decision

As a mother of four children living in a foreign country I was scared when COVID hit China. Being in China at that time I had to make one of the most important decisions of my life, “Do I remain in Shanghai and wait and see what happens with this outbreak of illness or do I leave everything behind and go somewhere where it may be safer? I chose to leave. I guess my husband and I are both very risk averse people because neither one of us wanted to risk our children or ourselves being exposed to this mysterious virus which was rapidly spreading throughout the country.

We didn’t have complete information about how fast the virus was spreading or how people were catching the virus or how many people even had died from the virus. I think it was the overall lack of information that made us feel that leaving Shanghai would be the best decision for us in our family. We literally booked flights one day and left the very next.

I remember trying to explain to my two older sons why we were taking such drastic measures. It’s hard to convince a 12 and 13 year old that leaving their friends and their belongings behind is necessary in order to protect them from some mysterious unknown virus that’s spreading through the country. I’m lucky that my boys were understanding. They didn’t waste time in packing, they actually have a lot of experience in packing so they got right to it.

It’s such a strange exercise going through everything that you own and trying to determine what is important enough to take with you in an emergency situation. One quickly realizes that 90% of  belongings are not needed. You don’t need 10 pairs of shoes, you don’t need five pairs of pajamas, you do not need you’re 30 different colors of nail Polish. Having to evacuate Shanghai in such a hasty manner taught me that I have a lot of things that I really don’t need.

So we managed to pack everything that we thought we would need for the next month or so and we booked a flight to Belgrade via  Doha. Stopping in Doha would normally be a very fun and exciting thing but in this situation it just seemed it felt unenjoyable. There was too much uncertainty surrounding everything for me to really enjoy being in Qatar.  The trip from Shanghai to Belgrade was long it was exhausting we were all tired and we were all mentally spent from the uncertainty surrounding the situation.

Belgrade : A False Sense of Security

When we landed in Belgrade we went to check in at the Marriott and we did feel a sense of relief when we had arrived in Belgrade. We realized that we were now out of China and that there was really no more risk of being exposed to this mysterious virus. But when we arrived at the reception desk at our hotel in Belgrade we were surprised to see about 10 to 20 Chinese tourists also fleeing China arriving in Belgrade. It was evident at that time that China was doing nothing to stop Chinese tourists from leaving China. Woo Han was on lockdown but everyone else in China was free to leave the mainland. I honestly think that if China had prevented so many local people from getting on international flights in January 2020 the world would not have seen such a rapid increase of cases so quickly.

We stayed in Belgrade for about a month. It was good to be around family and give the children a to see their grandparents.  Now that I think about it if we hadn’t stopped in Belgrade at this time I don’t know when we would have a chance to see them due to the current travel restrictions. It was a blessing in disguise and one that I’m truly grateful for. But staying in Belgrade was just a temporary solution Anne we did need to make our way back to Asia because both my husband and I had jobs that we’re pulling us to come back.

Singapore is Home

In February we decided that we would not return to Shanghai while the cases were still increasing and so we decided to make Singapore our next new home. Which is funny because we lived in Singapore from 2013 to 2017 – we are no strangers to living in Singapore. And actually most of my good memories regarding travel, friends, and meeting my husband were from Singapore.

So here we are a year and a half later still in Singapore and just now adjusting to the fact that this was not a temporary stop for us. Landing in Singapore while fleeing the pandemic was not a mistake. It was what the universe had in store for us and we are right where we should be.

Ksenija in Singapore, 2021

I personally have a really bad habit of not wanting to establish roots anywhere. Sometimes this is a good thing I never get too attached to one place, but sometimes it can be a bad thing because I end up not doing things like decorating the house or buying home decor that would brighten up a room.  so now I’m finally giving myself the excuse to buy some artwork buy a few decorative vases and just establish roots here in Singapore.

As of now I have spent more time in Singapore then any other place in Asia. It’s safe to say this is at least one of my homes in Asia.  Let’s see if I can set up a put this post to action and buy something nice for the home today.

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