From the sunshine to the jungle, the cuisine and her domestic worker, author Karien van Ditzhuijzen shares what she misses the most from Singapore, the country she and her family called home for seven years.
Physically, I am in the Netherlands, but my head is still in Singapore. When I sit behind my computer and start writing, I am instantly transported back to my old garden. My books are set there – a spot that inspires me more than the view of a bleak Dutch winter my window here offers. I’m working on part two of JungleGirlMia, a series of middle grade books set in the Black and White house I used to live in, where I sat writing in between screeching monkeys and scampering lizards. Getting inspired was easy from my garden desk: new animal adventures for Mia presented themselves regularly, all I had to do was sit back and observe.
When people ask me what I miss most about Singapore, where I lived for seven years with my family, I don’t know where to start. The sun! The smells! The food! The jungle, that started just behind my garden in the nature reserve. My friends. Sneaky reflexology sessions during grocery runs. Lazy Sundays on Sentosa. The chatter of the ladies at HOME shelter where I worked. Book events.
The other day, at dinner, I asked my family what they missed most. I don’t know whether it was because we were eating, but the kids were unanimous: the food. Chicken Rice, said one. Roti Prata, added the other. Thosai, Nasi Lemak, Crispy Baby Squid, Goreng Pisang. Katong laksa with cockles, my personal favourite. Our plates of Dutch winter fare tasted bland in comparison.
Soon the discussion led to our domestic worker Indah, whose cooking we miss as much as our favourite hawker fare. Indah taught me the intricacies of Indonesian cuisine, and shared her recipes, which I edited and posted on my blog. I cook them regularly, and the kids have approved of my creations, but we all have to agree: it is not the same. She made them better. We miss not only her cooking, nor the fact that she kept our house immaculate. We miss her, as a person. During those seven years she became an integral part of our family, and I miss our daily talks, her knowledge of local plants, her creativity, her sense of humour. We chat on Whatsapp often, but again, it’s not the same.
The other thing we miss is the travels in the region. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are all on Singapore’s doorstep. We do enjoy exploring Europe, which is totally new for the kids, and now the COVID measures are easing up we are looking forward to many city trips. London, Barcelona, Paris. But part of my heart keeps longing for other weekends away: those in Bintan, Batam, or the Malaysian islands near Mersing. We comfort ourselves with the thought that our friends in Singapore have had to miss those too, with all the restrictions in the last few years.
We feel lucky to have spent the first year of the lockdowns ‘stuck’ in Bali, which is even more enjoyable without hordes of tourists (well, it was for us, not for those Balinese who rely on income from tourism. I’m happy for them that they have now opened the island again.) In the second year of lockdowns we were in the Netherlands, where things were not that strict.
So yes, I miss Singapore every day, and more so in winter. But spring has started in Europe, and that gives me hope. It’s early, trees are still bare, but daffodils and crocuses pop up everywhere. Soon nature will erupt and with that, my soul will rejoice.
And now measures seem to be easing up everywhere, a visit to Asia looks to be on the horizon. I’m counting the days!
JungleGirlMia by Karien van Ditzhuijzen is now available at all good book stores in Singapore.