Overseas Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Stylish designer Pearlyn Koh dishes on life in colourful Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona in northeastern Spain has checked all the boxes for stylish Singaporean wedding stationery designer Pearlyn Koh’s family of four with a slower pacer of life, proximity to nature, warm summers and city comforts. More than just a seaside party city with Antoni Gaudí’s distinctive architecture and a vibrant dining scene, the capital of Catalonia is also a great city to live in with kids, as Pearlyn shows us on her Instagram account.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I studied jewellery design in school and worked as a designer and diamond grader for several years before leaving my job to join my husband in South Korea. It gave me the push I needed to pursue my passion in illustration and design as a freelancer under my own brand, which has also given me the freedom of working remotely – Pearlyn and Paper. Fast forward to today and we have two kids: a three-year-old girl, Rey, and a one-year-old boy, Jude, who were both born in Spain.
What brought you to Barcelona, Spain? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband’s job! He is Singaporean and works in the video game industry. This is our fifth year living in Barcelona; prior to this we were in Seoul for a year. I first moved to Seoul to end our long-distance relationship after we got married. I can confirm that having a long distance relationship is not fun! It’s been five wonderful years here in Spain.
Favourite aspect about living in Barcelona?
Barcelona has all the advantages of a major city like shopping, diverse cuisines and vibrant nightlife, yet it is also balanced with a modest pace of life, open spaces such as boardwalks and parks and is also just a short drive away from nature and the outdoors. We appreciate how much less hectic it is compared to Seoul and Singapore. We are unwilling to give up the comforts of being in a city so it is pretty much best of both worlds for us.
And the worst part?
The bureaucracy and the strikes! I think I’ve gained a new level of appreciation for the orderliness and the high level of efficiency we see in Singapore.
Your most recent purchase…
… for your children?
During the summer sales (always a perfect time for a steal), I stocked up on winter clothing for my kids.
How do you think parenting in Barcelona differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Parents and schools here seem to focus on the child’s emotions and physicality by encouraging play, exploration and discovery. People here are very understanding when your child raises a ruckus or starts making a mess in the restaurant. Also, there is definitely a lower emphasis on academic results in the early years. My true-blue Singaporean husband always complains about it!
Did you give birth to your children in Barcelona? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
My firstborn, Rey, was born a year after we moved to Barcelona. It was quite an experience. I barely spoke any Spanish then, my gynaecologist and the midwives spoke no English in return, so I had to take the entire process of pregnancy and childbirth with a lot of faith. I thank God that the process was smooth and the doctors and nurses were supportive and helpful.
When I lost my mucus plug during contractions, I immediately headed to the hospital but was actually sent home! Turns out I had to be at least four centimetres dilated before they would admit me. After going to the hospital for the third time, I gave birth to Rey really quickly with no complications. For Jude as well, I was sent home the first time and when I went back two hours later, I was already six centimetres dilated.
I also wasn’t expecting them to leave the newborn with me to look after. It was rather overwhelming for me, especially when I was a newly-minted mom. There was no nursery for babies where they were cared for by the nurses like how I imagined it to be. It was just sleep-deprived me, staring at a wide-eyed baby and not knowing what to do, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
After I gave birth, I was asked to shower almost immediately (which I did, an hour after giving birth) and encouraged by doctors to enjoy the sunny days and take slow strolls with my newborn in the park often. I guess they have never heard of postpartum confinement!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Working remotely with kids around requires a lot of focus and discipline. I have to closely manage my time a lot more. I sent both kids to school and daycare for half a day as soon as I realised that I wasn’t cut out to be a stay at home mum (SAHM). This has allowed me to continue to do what I love and I get some time to work while they are away.
These days, I have to reduce my workload by half in order to juggle motherhood, work and a little self-care. Doing what I love energises me and while it is challenging, it is a welcome distraction from the challenges of parenting. I’m blessed to be able to work on both at the same time.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Barcelona?
If your definition of kid-friendly restaurants means having changing rooms, children’s cutlery or even baby chairs, restaurants here are generally not kid-friendly! On the plus side, locals here really love kids and are generally tolerant of their mess and ruckus. We go everywhere and just avoid cramped standing tapas bars and outdoor seating where smoking is allowed.
Top five places in or around Barcelona you would recommend to parents travelling with kids, and why?
- Montjuïc – We love starting from the top of the hill, where Montjuïc Castle is, then slowly strolling down to where the gardens and parks are. You can enjoy the view, have a cup of coffee (ice cream for the kids), then walk down all the way to where the fountain is at the base of the hill. There’s even a fountain show every night!
- Parc d’atraccions Tibidabo – Tibidabo Amusement Park is located on Tibidabo, Barcelona’s tallest peak, and has a beautiful view of the city. It’s the perfect place to spend your Saturdays; the kids love the rides and the adults love the view. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the park and in the vicinity as well.
- L’illa Diagonal – While Barcelona does not have many malls, L’illa Diagonal is one of the best. It has all your shopping needs in one place – Zara, Mango, Primark, etc. – and there is even a mini kids amusement park outside!
- CosmoCaixa – This science museum is a great place for kids with many interactive exhibits. There is so much to see and do, there’s never enough time here. Free entry for children under six years old, too!
- Parc de La Creueta del Coll – What used to be an abandoned quarry is today a park with a large outdoor wading pool. We go there often in the summer to beat the heat.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
For long haul flights, red-eye flights work best for us. We often travel with colouring books to keep Rey occupied. We recently discovered a handy travel bed for kids by Stokke called BedBox. It allows your child to sleep more comfortably on the plane and it has been super useful!
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Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We have been training the older one to appreciate spicy food and durian! The Spanish have almost no spices in their food and we have been encouraging the kids to eat curries to get them used to the taste. Once a week, we video call both our families back home and we love how mobile technology allows them to connect so easily with their grandparents despite the distance.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Barcelona
For a child:
Wooden toys such as bows and arrows, shields and swords as well as medieval costumes that are hard to find in Singapore.
For a mama friend:
Singaporeans being foodies, jamón ibérico always works!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
They say it takes a village to raise a child. While we really enjoy raising our children, we miss the help from and interaction with our families back home. Thankfully, we now have a community of friends we can count on. Not being fluent in Spanish and Catalan does create hurdles once in a while.
On raising multilingual children …
I honestly think we are quite horrible at this. We “rojak” in Singlish and Spanish all the time at home. For Spanish and Catalan, we don’t worry too much since Catalan is the primary language in school and Spanish is spoken everywhere.
The language we are most concerned about is Mandarin. Both my husband and I speak Mandarin poorly; we don’t even speak Mandarin with our families! We have tried countless times to speak Mandarin with our children but we have given up. This past summer, we did try to enrol Rey for activity workshops where children play and converse in Mandarin.
A basic foundation of languages would be ideal but I don’t feel pressured to force Mandarin on them. I learned Korean in my 20s and Spanish in my 30s. If I can do it at this age, I’m sure they can, too.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Sambal chilli for myself and children’s books (usually from the grandparents).
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Get your lashes done! I instantly look like I am ready to roll even if I just had a terrible night.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family:
Spaghetti aglio e olio! Simple ingredients and kids never say no to pasta.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Barcelona if you moved away?
Everyone loves kids here and kids have a special place in this city. We have always been welcomed with kids wherever we go and people talk to our kids in the street almost on a daily basis.
Read about more overseas Singaporean mamas here:
Vivian Won in Germany
Zarina Thomas in Penang
Michele Rajic in Washington, D.C.