The Leske family - Tom and Terri-Anne Leske with their three kids
The Montandon family - Steeve with his wife and daughter
They relish local food, speak Singlish, celebrate local festivals, sing National Day songs and have local names. You probably would not guess they are not Singaporeans until you looked at them.
Born in Singapore to Australian nationals Tom and Terri-Anne Leske, five-year-old Eli Leske identifies as a local, his parents say.
“He doesn’t look Singaporean, but he considers himself Singaporean. All three of my children do,” says Mrs Leske, 28, referring to Eli, his twin sister Olivia, and their younger sister Hallie. All of them were born here.
“We meant to come here for just a year after Tom got a job offer in Singapore, but we’ve been here for close to six years now and we’re not planning to move,” says Mrs Leske, a food photographer and author who also runs a food blog. Her husband Tom, 38, is a stockbroker.
There are other expatriate families here like the Leske family, who moved here from overseas, gave birth to children here, and now call Singapore their home.
Their closest friends are locals, they enjoy eating and cooking local food, and their children attend local schools, celebrate local festivals and can speak Mandarin.
Mrs Leske says her two older children were given Chinese names by their teachers in school, and that she overhears them speaking to each other in Mandarin at home.
Her youngest, Hallie, loves singing the Chinese nursery rhymes and songs that she learns from her pre-school at home.
“She’s the only blondie in class, but we love that she’s learning the language. We want her to have a culturally diverse upbringing,” says Mrs Leske.
Swiss national Steeve Montandon’s three-year-old daughter Liyana is also experiencing a culturally diverse life here.
At the local pre-school where she is enrolled, she eats local food such as sliced fish mee tai mak (a variation of Chinese noodles), claypot rice with chicken and nasi lemak.
Her best friend in school is a Singaporean and her speech is peppered with Singlish, says Mr Montandon, 41, who came here in 2008 with his family and runs a financial advisory firm. “Liyana says things like ‘Wait ah‘, ‘Cannot lah,’ and ‘I told you lah‘, and she naturally calls older people here ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’.”
He says his family’s closest friends are Singaporeans too, whom they met through work and who, in turn, introduced them to other locals. One of their closest groups of friends here is made up of a mix of Singaporean Malay, Indian and Chinese families and their children.
Mr Montandon says: “We always wanted to live somewhere else in the world and when we came here, we wanted a Singaporean experience.
“We didn’t want to just spend time at the Swiss Club here or hang out with fellow expatriates. We intentionally made the effort to adapt ourselves to people and life here.”
Even their daughter’s name reflects their time here, as Liyana was named after one of Mrs Montandon’s Singaporean Malay ex-colleagues, who had that name.
Since settling here, the couple have come to enjoy drinking kopi. Mrs Montandon, 38, a Mexican, also adds sliced chilli padi to everything she eats because she loves spicy food.
They frequent hawker centres for some of their favourite local dishes, such as char kway teow. Mr Montandon says that at one point, having char kway teow was “a must” for him at least once a week, until a concerned local friend told him the rate at which he was ordering the dish was not good for his cholesterol levels.
Local food appears to be a big factor that makes foreigners feel at home.
For Mrs Leske, she not only cooks local food, but also shops for groceries at Tekka wet market. At least once a week, she heads to the market via public transport to buy vegetables, meat and fish. It is an experience she looks forward to.
“The food is very fresh and cheaper than what I’d pay in the supermarkets. Yes, it’s a bit chaotic – but I like that,” says Mrs Leske, who buys greens such as kailan and Chinese spinach, and fish such as snapper and locally farmed barramundi.
She adds that the stallholders are able to speak English, and when they do not, there is always pointing.
During festive gatherings, Mrs Leske even whips up a feast of local delights, including black pepper crab and crispy Chinese pork belly.
Of course, that’s not to say they’ve abandoned their home cultures.
Most make trips back home at least once a year, as they say it is important for their children, while comfortable here, to know and have warm relations with their family members overseas.
Some have adapted practices from home to a local context. Mrs Leske, who enjoys having picnics in Australia, says she sometimes packs home-cooked food into containers, grabs a few blankets, and has a “picnic” with her husband and their children on the rooftop of their rented house in Kovan.
By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, December 2017
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