Overseas Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Global citizen Christine Ng tells us about raising two sons in Chile and now Christchurch, New Zealand
This week, we speak to Christine Ng, a overseas Singaporean mama of two, who believes that the best way to see and experience a country is to live there as a “local”. True to her beliefs, she and her Malaysian husband, whom she met while studying in Australia, are now living in Christchurch, New Zealand after eight years in Chile. She tells us more about the New Zealand education system, the best souvenirs from Christchurch, and how her career has evolved since having children.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, I’m Christine, a 42-year-old Singaporean currently living in Christchurch, New Zealand with my husband and my two boys who are 6 and 4.5 years old. I am a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) but I am hoping to find some work when my younger son starts school next February.
I was born in Singapore and lived half my life there. My first attempt at living overseas was when I was studying in a polytechnic. I opted for overseas work placement and spent four months living in Hamilton, New Zealand. I guess that must have triggered the travel bug in me. I spent about half a year travelling to various countries in Europe, Egypt, China and India while working intermittently in the subsequent years upon graduation.
In 2001, I decided to pursue my degree in Brisbane, Australia. I lived in Brisbane for two years with my Malaysian then-boyfriend / now-husband who was also studying there at that time. I returned to Singapore in 2003 and got married in 2005. We lived in Singapore for five years before moving to Chile for eight years. After leaving Chile in December 2016, we spent a year back in Singapore – mainly for my boys to get to know their grandparents and extended families in Singapore and Malaysia.
What brought you to Christchurch, New Zealand? How long have you been living overseas?
We moved here in January 2018. My husband did a course in viticulture that year and we are now holding work visas till 2022. I have lived abroad for almost 12 years in total. I guess I had an epiphany one day after travelling as a tourist for a while, realising that since I would not be able to visit all the countries in the world, I should make each country that I visit count. That was when I decided that the best way to see and experience a country is to live there as a “local”.
Favourite aspect about living in Christchurch?
You can get around easily by car, bus, scooter, etc. as everything is pretty close by. There is plenty to see and do within the city itself and if you are ever bored of Christchurch, there are myriad of day trips to choose from.
And the worst part?
Food and groceries are not particularly cheap. Eating out is a treat unlike in Singapore where you can get cheap and good food 24/7.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
Boardgames and shoes.
Shoes and PJs.
How do you think parenting in Christchurch differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I think it is more laid back here. There is not a lot of emphasis on academic achievement so you see more kids doing sports and climbing trees! In New Zealand, play is an important part of a child’s life. There is also a great deal of importance placed on the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
What I appreciate most is the lack of homework, haha! My elder boy is attending school here (Year 2), his homework is to read a book everyday from Mondays to Thursdays and to learn to spell 5-10 words per week. Preschool is even more relaxing! Both my boys are really enjoying school here.
New Zealand has one of the most autonomous school systems in the world. State or state-integrated schools each have a board of trustees (primarily consisting of parents, teachers and senior students) responsible for the administration and management of the school. For instance, my friend’s child goes to a school in Wellington which does not have a uniform as the parents had voted against it.
Schools must teach and cover the New Zealand Curriculum but the ways in which they do this are at their discretion. There are no set curriculum materials. Rather, each teacher or school is responsible for interpreting the curriculum, adapting it to the local context.
Did you give birth to your children in Christchurch? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
No, they were both born in Chile so they are Chileans holding Chilean passports. I had them via C-section in a private hospital and because I had insurance coverage, I only had to pay a total of S$60 for the first one and S$2 for the second!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I worked as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher after graduating from university. I worked in Singapore for five years before relocating to Santiago, Chile in 2008.
There, I started out teaching English at various language institutes before becoming a teacher trainer at an institute and working part-time at a local university. In 2011, I became the head of department for foreign languages (mainly English and Mandarin) in a private school in Santiago.
I had my first baby in June 2013 and my second in December 2014. My husband and I decided against hiring external help so we both cut down our working hours to take turns looking after our children. I’m glad I had my babies in Chile as it is a fairly pro-natalist country. My bosses were very supportive of my decision to reduce my working hours, especially after the birth of my second child.
Subsequently, we concluded that we should move closer to home as the flight from Singapore to Santiago is too arduous for our aging parents. They also were complaining that they hadn’t been able to see and play with their grandchildren as often as they would have liked.
I resigned from my post in October 2016 and we returned to Singapore for a year. From that time onwards, I became a SAHM. It was a struggle initially as I felt a loss of identity but I am now enjoying every bit of it. The bond I have with my children now is priceless.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Christchurch?
There are a lot of kid-friendly restaurants in Christchurch but if I really had to choose one, I would say Fisherman’s Wharf Lyttleton because my family and I are seafood lovers. It is a cozy little place with fresh seafood and a good view of Lyttleton Harbour. The staff is friendly and kids get some colouring sheets while waiting for their food. Also, if you are in Lyttleton on a Saturday morning, you could go to the farmers’ market for some local produce or handicraft before heading to the restaurant for lunch.
Top five places in or around Christchurch you would recommend to parents traveling with kids:
- Orana Wildlife Park – If you like being up close and personal with animals then this is the place for you. You get to feed a giraffe and you also get the option of travelling through the lion reserve. All in all, it makes an enjoyable day trip for both the young and the old.
- Christchurch Botanic Gardens – Christchurch is known as New Zealand’s Garden City because of its many beautiful parks, gardens and tree-lined streets. So, there’s no better place to visit than the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The Avon River is key to the city’s identity and it loops around the gardens. If you have time after exploring the gardens, I suggest going punting on the Avon. It is truly one of the most beautiful, romantic and picturesque attractions in the city.
- Christchurch Central Business District (CBD) – There are tons of things to see and do in the CBD from parks and museums to cafes and Imagination Station, a LEGO play area situated in Tūranga, the main public library in Christchurch. The best way to move around the city is to take the trams or the red double decker buses.
- International Antarctic Centre – Located close to the Christchurch Airport, it is one of the city’s major tourist attractions. The highlight is the Hägglund all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle ride, aimed mainly at children but is just as educational for visitors of all ages. There is also the Storm Dome where one can experience an Antarctic storm, the Penguin Encounter featuring New Zealand’s smallest penguin and the Husky Zone, which promises to be a hit with kids. Children can cuddle and take photos with huskies at no extra cost.
- Akaroa – The most French town in New Zealand is a pleasant 80 min-drive from Christchurch. The feature of this tranquil picturesque town is its French heritage and French colonial architecture. If you have time, take a harbour cruise to view dolphins, penguins and fur seals.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
If possible, choose good seats and fly at night. Make the flight as comfortable as possible for the little ones. Let them put on comfortable clothes (e.g. pyjamas) and bring their favourite cuddle toys onboard. Pack snacks, at least one spare change of clothes and activity packs such as sticker and colouring books. Ensure all electronic gadgets are fully charged and pack a backup charger if necessary. We usually make our kids eat or drink something (i.e. milk, water, candy or lollipop) during takeoff and landing to distract them from the discomfort they might experience due to the air pressure.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We usually speak Singlish at home. They also do regular Skype calls with my parents. Most importantly, we try to go back to Singapore once every year.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Christchurch…
For a child:
Buzzy Bee wooden pull-along toy, a New Zealand native animal plush toy, or a glow-in-the-dark kiwi t-shirt.
For a mama friend:
Whittaker’s chocolate, Mānuka honey, or the iconic New Zealand greenstone.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
The lack of family support, being away from the clan.
On raising multilingual children …
Ensure consistency in using the target language(s). I must say we haven’t been really successful in getting our kids to speak Spanish or Mandarin because we are too contented speaking Singlish.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Sauces and pastes especially chilli and sambal as well as snacks for the kids like salted egg yolk fish skin, fish crackers and wheel crackers.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
I don’t usually put on make up but it is a must to slap on sunscreen here.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family:
My go-to recipe is chicken rice because my boys love chicken and cucumber in soy sauce and sesame oil. It is a fairly simple dish to cook and it definitely reminds us of Singapore.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Christchurch if you moved away?
The slow pace of life while being constantly surrounded by nature.