Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today we speak with marine biologist Cherh Kah Leng in Taichung, Taiwan
This month, our series takes us to Taiwan where we chat with marine biologist Cherh Kah Leng. Based in Taiwan’s second largest city, Taichung, with her Taiwanese husband and two-year-old son, she enjoys the outdoors and makes the best of what her adopted city has to offer. Read on for her great tips on surviving a flight with young children and how she keeps her child in touch with his Singaporean roots.
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Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a marine biologist and environmental educator living in Taichung in central Taiwan with my Taiwanese husband, Colin, and two-year old son, Connor. We are an outdoorsy family; we love hiking and camping and have been camping ever since Connor was eight months old.
What brought you to Taichung, Taiwan? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband, Colin, works at Tunghai University in Taichung and we have been here for four years.
Favourite aspect of living in Taichung?
Taichung is right smack in the middle of Taiwan so we are never really far from bustling Taipei, artsy Kaohsiung or its central mountain range full of streams, hot springs and hiking trails to explore. We also love living right next to Tunghai University for its wide open spaces, old trees and wildlife – a perfect place for Saturday morning picnics.
And the worst part?
The air quality is Taichung is far from ideal. The largest coal-fired power station in the world is located in Taichung, not far from where we are. On bad days when the air is smoggy grey and the PM 2.5 hits 70 or more, Connor and I suffer from our allergies like clockwork. Traffic in Taichung is also not the best due to lacklustre urban planning and poor driving ethics.
Your most recent purchase
… for your child?
A yellow dinosaur raincoat – because Connor loves dinosaurs – to enjoy outdoor play regardless of weather (why wait for sunny days?).
An educational board game with a marine debris theme.
How do you think parenting in Taichung differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I imagine parenting in Taichung to be more laid-back than in Singapore. There is no rush to keep up with the Joneses, to send preschool-aged kids to all sorts of classes, but then again perhaps that is just me.
I appreciate the many free resources in Taichung. For instance, parent-child centres are equipped with playrooms and they loan out educational toys, too. There are plenty of activities including storytelling sessions at museums and libraries so we never run out of things to do.
Did you give birth to your child in Taichung? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Yes, childbirth was an amazing experience beyond words, but also filled with irony because we were overjoyed to welcome Connor into our lives but also simultaneously petrified at the thought of being responsible for another human being! We winged it and eventually got the hang of it. Don’t all parents do this whether they admit it or not?
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I run a citizen science project called Reef Check and pre-baby, I was travelling all over Taiwan, including offshore islands, leading volunteers on coral reef surveys. It was a lot of fun diving in some of the prettiest places in Taiwan and spending time with people who share my passion for marine conservation. Naturally, many of them became close friends to this day.
Post-baby, I obviously could not run field trips or go scuba diving with a newborn in my arms, so I took a good chunk of time away from work to ease myself into motherhood and enjoy Connor for a bit. When I got back to work, I handled the administrative part of Reef Check and poured my energy into marine conservation education plus a little bit of research. I can do that with a baby on my hip but I do miss being out in the field.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Taichung?
We do not eat out a lot but there are plenty of kid-friendly restaurants in Taiwan equipped with play areas that are popular with other mums.
Top five places in Taichung you would recommend to parents traveling with kids?
Tunghai University – For the famed Luce Memorial Chapel, its dairy farm, and the student-run Little White House where one can experience tree-climbing, observe the insides of a living bee hive, and try some bee pollen pastry.
National Museum of Natural Science – Connor’s favourite is the dinosaur hall where a mother and baby T-Rex come to life, complete with loud roars and blinking eyes. He can watch them for ages and responds with roars of his own.
National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts – Let your child’s creativity and imagination run wild in the art-themed children’s play area!
Caowu Square – For the colourful festivals, wide open spaces and sculptures.
Miyahara – With its towering bookcases, this ice cream parlour looks straight out of a Harry Potter movie. We come here for ice cream with local flavours such as lychee honey, tea, Taiwanese mango, mulberry. The ice cream will come in a big waffle bowl, generously topped with cheesecake bites, chocolate balls and pineapple pastry. You can also buy Taichung’s famous Dawncake here as well as exquisite cookies, candies and chocolates packaged as vintage books, CDs or vinyls.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
Engage your child in the flight experience — introduce him to parts of the aircraft, and make it a conversation where you get him to describe what he sees. Bring lots of colouring and story books and be creative with finger puppets and little figurines and toy cars.
If all else fails, just relax and ignore the dirty stares. Kids will be kids, flying can be unfamiliar and scary for some, and we should all learn to be more empathetic. Parents don’t need the extra pressure. But having said that, if your child is kicking a fellow passenger’s seat out of sheer boredom, please pause your inflight movie and teach your child some empathy, too.
We watch the National Day Parade online every year and celebrate with other Singaporeans at a yearly dinner event. Last October, we also spent a day at the Month of Singapore event at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. We dressed up in Peranakan attire, a tribute to our heritage on my mother’s side. Connor had fun playing in inflatable HDB playgrounds and had satay and salted egg fish skin.
At home, I make it a point to frequently cook Singaporean fare like bak kut teh, curry chicken, mee siam and our favourite, laksa. And, yes, Connor can eat a bit of spicy food as he has a Singaporean palate!
I also buy picture books written by Singaporeans, especially on Singapore’s nature and wildlife such as the series written by the students of Raffles Ecological Literacy Program. This helps Connor recall his experiences in Singapore when we are back in Taiwan.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Taichung
…for a child:
Butterfly cookies from Miyahara.
…for a mama friend:
One of the many face mask sets Taiwan has to offer.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Having to translate information on vaccines and medical conditions so that I can understand what the gynaecologist and paediatrician are saying.
On raising multilingual children …
It is a challenge speaking in English to Connor as I feel it is rude to speak to your child in a language that people around you may not understand well so we speak English mostly at home. We watch lots of English animated films, I read to Connor in English a lot and sing English nursery rhymes to him, too. Although he can understand English most of the time, his grasp of Mandarin is still better as it is what his childcare teachers speak. I guess environment makes the biggest difference.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
English language books, so that would be parenting books or Singaporean literature for me and picture storybooks for Connor.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Any one-pot, all-in-one meal with proteins and vegetables such as tom yum soup, yong tau foo, casseroles and Japanese curry.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Taichung if you moved away?
Seeing the mountain range in the distance when the air is clear and Christmas at Tunghai University.
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