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Singaporeans Abroad: Overseas Mama Shir-Leen Tong in the Japanese Countryside

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life
TravelPost Category - TravelTravel

Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today we speak with mama Shir-Leen Tong, who lives amidst the mountains and waterfalls of Hakusan, Japan

In this month’s Overseas Mama interview, the spotlight is on Singaporean mama Shir-Leen Tong, who had bravely taken the plunge to move countries with her husband and their young son earlier this year. Today they live in Japan, far from the hustle and bustle of hectic city life, in Hakusan in southeastern Ishikawa Prefecture. She tells us more about how she is adapting to rustic life in the mountainous Japanese countryside, surrounded by nature.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a stay at home mum (SAHM) who lives in Hakusan, a city in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan with my husband and our son, who just turned one in August!

What brought you to Hakusan? How long have you been living overseas?

I followed my husband, who is teaching at a college here. We’ve been here since April 2018, so it has only been six months so far.

Favourite aspect of living in Hakusan?

Being surrounded by nature. We live at the foothills of Mount Haku and all around us are mountains, farms and trees.

And the worst part?

Being far away from all the comforts of city life. The nearest supermarket is a 40-minute drive away, and so is the nearest Starbucks!

Your most recent purchase

for your child?
A yukata for my son for his first birthday. In Japan, the yukata is worn during the summer, especially at the summer festivals.

for yourself?
A Danbo model, currently sitting on my windowsill with my plants.

How do you think parenting in Hakusan differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?

I think in Japan, children are exposed to nature a lot, especially here in Hakusan. It is not unusual to see preschoolers being brought out to play at the river. They are given autonomy to have fun, in what parents in Singapore would probably consider to be a high-risk area, with water, rocks and insects. I love the idea of children growing up, experiencing this world and learning through outdoor experiences, rather than just in the classroom.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?

I left my teaching job before I got married, and have not been working since then. I’m thankful that I have such a supportive husband who allows me to spend all my time nurturing our child as well as on my own interests (when time allows!), such as making trinkets or painting.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Hakusan?

In general, most restaurants in Hakusan are kid-friendly. There are always high chairs, baby bowls and utensils available. Our child especially loves it when we dine at places that allow us to sit on tatami mats as he can crawl around freely.

Top five places in Hakusan you would recommend to parents traveling with kids?

  • Torigoe Sunflower Field: It is very beautiful in the summer as the field is full of sunflowers, some of which are as tall as 1.6 metres! It is really quite an awesome sight and a great place for photo-taking.
  • Hakusan Shirakawa-go White Road: This is a road that cuts through Hakusan National Park and links Hakusan to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Shirakawa-go. It is only open during certain times of the year and one can be greeted by so much breathtaking scenery along the route, including waterfalls, rivers and mountains.

  • Tedori Gorge: This is very accessible to visitors young and old. One can choose to take a flight of steps down to the waterfall or view it from an observation deck.
  • Hakusan Park: There are outdoor and indoor play areas for children of all ages here. There is also a cafe to take a break at. There are often a lot of activities organised at the park for families, such as nature walks and craft workshops using stones and branches.
  • Hakusan Kyoryu Park: Great for children who are interested in dinosaurs. Children can even excavate their own fossils at the park’s fossil discovery zone.

Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?

Many would suggest taking a night flight, but having done so once and then having to carry the baby for eight hours, I think I’d prefer a normal day flight instead so that at least we, the parents, aren’t dead tired upon arrival at our destination. We would usually bring our baby’s blanket, swaddle or pillow, his favourite toy(s) and book(s), a new toy which will interest him, and his favourite snacks. Be calm and remember that babies are entitled to cry in a plane. After all, that’s the only way they know how to express themselves!

Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?

My child is probably still too young to understand his Singaporean roots, but my husband and I do watch Singaporean television series on Toggle.

Best souvenir one could bring back from Hakusan…

For a child?
A Shiramine snowman doll. Shiramine, about one hour by car from Hakusan, is famous for snowmen and its Snowman Festival during winter!

For a mama friend?
Miso paste. I’ve come to realise that there are many different types of miso pastes that can be used to cook meats, tofu and soup. Really a lifesaver when one needs to whip up a quick meal.

What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?

Lack of support and the communication barriers. There are actually many parent-child activities here, including for SAHMs, but my inability to understand and speak Japanese prevents me from joining in some of these activities. And definitely, being away from family is hard, too.

On raising a multilingual child …

It will be ideal if my son will be able to speak Japanese, besides English and Mandarin. But right now, we are just in the initial stages of getting him to talk! 

What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?

Organic baby cereal that we can’t get here, as well as pastes for Singaporean dishes like chicken rice, rendang and curry.

Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?

Tinted moisturiser with UV protection. Absolutely necessary for covering up blemishes and protecting the skin from the dry air and summer sun rays.

Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family?

Oyakudon. It’s simple and easy to make.

What’s the one thing you would miss about Hakusan if you moved away?

The view of the mountains every day and the changing colours of the trees.

Read more about Singaporean mamas abroad!

Vivian Pender in Portugal
Angelina Ho in Sweden
Maddy Wan in Melbourne

Torigoe Sunflower Field image by Chie Takashima; Tedori Gorge image Sani Maidin

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