Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Angelina Ho chats to us about Sweden, Ikea and babies sleeping outdoors in below freezing temperatures!
In this ongoing series, we find out how Singaporean mamas living overseas take to life abroad with little ones in tow. This month, Älmhult is in the spotlight. While most people would draw a blank, some might know Älmhult as the humble hometown of Swedish furniture giant IKEA. We speak to nature-loving Singaporean mama Angelina Ho who is living in Älmhult and of course works in IKEA. Angelina shares with us the Scandinavian attitude of embracing the great outdoors and how life is like in southern Sweden.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 31 and I’ve recently become a mother of two. I live with my Swedish husband and our beautiful six-year-old boy, Julian, and three-month-old, little girl, Eira.
What brought you to Älmhult? How long have you been living overseas?
I have been living abroad for 10 years. I lived in Australia for three years and then moved to Sweden in 2010. We are currently living in Älmhult, the birthplace of IKEA, and we moved here because of my career. I work as a communications specialist at IKEA of Sweden. My workplace is a bustling 30,000-square-meter idea factory where design and product development for the global range take place.
Favourite aspect about living in Älmhult?
We love nature and Älmhult is surrounded by beautiful lakes and forests. We enjoy being outdoors and we hike all year round. Summer and autumn are the perfect seasons to pick blueberries and mushrooms in the forests. There is an abundance of blueberries here. By spending just one to two hours picking blueberries, we would easily have enough blueberries to last us for almost the whole year, which is why we make a lot of smoothies.
Älmhult is very international and the amazing part is that I get to meet and work with people from all over the world. It’s great that my son also gets to learn and experience different cultures from a young age and he has developed a keen interest in culture and travel.
And the worst part?
It is difficult to find certain Asian ingredients and food since we live in a small town. Even though there is a small Thai store here, the selection is quite limited. Bigger Asian stores are at least one to two hours’ drive away.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
UNO card game for Julian and muslin wraps for Eira.
… for yourself?
Made-to-order sofa covers. Our sofa comes with non-removable covers. My husband and I never really thought much about it when we first bought the sofa. Needless to say, living with small children means our sofa gets stained quite easily and frequently which is a real hassle to clean. I’ve finally found a store that does customized sofa covers and the best part is everything can be easily removed and is machine-washable.
How do you think parenting in Älmhult differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
There is a Swedish saying “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. It is very common for Swedish preschools to have a daily outdoor play policy, regardless of the season, weather and temperature. When my son was younger, he took all his naps in his pram outdoors throughout winter in below-freezing temperature at his preschool. This is a common practice and is believed to be good in boosting the child’s immune system.
I think it’s great that kids here get to spend a significant amount of time outdoors. I appreciate being so close to nature. Seeing Julian come home in dirty, sandy, wet and muddy clothes and listening to his endless stories about the outdoors somehow makes me feel very content, knowing that he’s having a good time outside.
Did you give birth to your children in Älmhult? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
I gave birth to Julian in Ystad and Eira is born in Växjö, an hour by car from Älmhult. I had very good experiences and support with both pregnancies and deliveries. With my second labour, the midwife asked if I wanted to try acupuncture for pain relief. It sounds very bizarre as I have never heard of acupuncture being used in childbirth and was not expecting it, especially not in Sweden.
At the same time, I was also desperate to try anything that can relieve the pain and so that led to my first-ever acupuncture experience. I had several needles in my head, lower back and arms and I couldn’t lie on my back for about 30 to 45 minutes. To be honest, everything happened really fast and it was a blur, and I don’t know if acupuncture actually works, perhaps it did.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I had spent a few years on postgraduate studies before and after I had my first child so much of my career actually began post-baby. My work schedule post-baby is quite flexible; I usually work from home once a week and I can also choose to start work earlier so I have time to pick up Julian and bring him to his after-school activities.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Älmhult?
Definitely the IKEA Museum restaurant. It’s kid-friendly with a little play area in the dining area. The main course includes a good selection of different varieties of meatballs which is always a hit among the kids.
Top five places in or around Älmhult you would recommend to parents traveling with kids?
Smålandet Moose Safari – The fun part is going through the large moose enclosure in the forest either in the safari train or in your own car. My son enjoys feeding the moose up close from the train. There is also a goat pen next to the café for the kids.
Astrid Lindgren’s World – A theme park filled with characters from Astrid Lindgren’s classic children’s stories including Pippi Longstocking and many others. It is also Sweden’s biggest outdoor theater with lots of performances and imaginative play areas.
IKEA Museum – Other than the many different interactive exhibitions, there is also a creative workroom for kids filled with all kinds of materials, crafts and tools – free for all kids and their families to use. This is one of Julian’s favourite places to build stuff since he has access to all kinds of materials we normally wouldn’t have at home.
Linnes Råshult – This is the birthplace of Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus), a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist who formalised the modern system of naming organisms. The cultural reserve covers 42 hectares, taking visitors back to life in an early 18th century landscape. We enjoy hiking here as it’s an easy hike for the whole family and there are three marked trails covering different distances to choose from.
Sjöstugan – Located in the middle of the Småland forest and surrounded by lakes, Sjöstugan is ideal for a camping holiday or you can also stay in a cottage too. It’s a short drive from our apartment and we go there all year round. During winter, it is quite fun to ice skate and play frisbee on the frozen lake.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
If it’s a long flight, I prefer to select the timing that coincides with their bedtime so hopefully the kids can sleep through most of the flight. I once made the mistake of allocating only an hour for transit while travelling alone with Julian on a long flight. It was very stressful, rushing between terminals in an unfamiliar airport while carrying a hungry baby and all the bulky baby stuff. Now I always make sure there is ample time during transit to catch the connecting flight. I’ll also make sure to bring some things to entertain the kid such as crayons, paper and some favourite snacks in case crankiness hits.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We often talk about Singapore and we have regular video calls with my family and relatives back home. Since Julian is older now, we have also started to watch local TV series together on Toggle very frequently.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Älmhult
– for a child:
Eco clothing from MaxoMorra, a local brand from Älmhult, that comes in bold, playful and adorable prints.
– for a mama friend:
Småland butter caramel fudge.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
None of our closest family lives in Sweden so we are essentially on our own. The hardest part is when my husband is travelling and that’s when I have to juggle everything all by myself.
On raising a multilingual child …
Julian is fluent in English and Swedish. I do feel guilty for not speaking more Mandarin to him. Primary schools in Sweden offer students after-school mother tongue classes. Julian will start his Chinese classes next year when he’s in primary one, hopefully this will be a good way for him to pick up more Mandarin.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Kaya! I always bring back a few jars as Julian is a huge fan of kaya waffles. I also try to bring back Chinese herbal syrup Pei Pa Koa, Po Chai Pills, pandan leaves and, if there’s still room, a couple of Chinese storybooks.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Tidy brows, mascara, lip balm and always apply moisturizer.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Anything salmon, it’s so versatile. I like it both Asian style with rice, bok choy and homemade teriyaki sauce as well as Swedish style with potatoes, salad, dill and cream sauce with roe.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Älmhult if you moved away?
The nature! And also the peace and quiet.
All images courtesy of the author