Singaporean overseas mama Karen Lee tells us about life in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and son Isaac
In our latest Overseas Mama series, Singaporean Karen Lee talks about working in Beijing on exciting projects such as Prada’s first event in China and brainstorming with Wong Kar-wai before being whisked away in a police car to a secret location. Karen now lives in Seattle with her Chinese American husband and son Isaac. Without family nearby Karen reveals that she feels free of all commitments and judgment from their home cultures.
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Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I met my future boss at her birthday party in Beijing, China. She asked if I would like to work for her. I said “why not?” and that was the beginning of my 10 years living in Beijing and Shanghai. I moved to China in 2008, when Beijing was preparing to host the Summer Olympic Games. It was an amazing time to be in China, I loved it because the city was changing so fast then.
I worked as a director in a leading experiential marketing agency in China. Our clients were mainly fashion and luxury brands. The brands I’ve worked with include Hermes, Dior, Prada, Armani, Etro, Cartier, Tiffany, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, and BMW.
I met my Chinese American husband Yunyi in Shanghai, and we have a three-year-old son, Isaac. I am now a stay-at-home mum (SAHM) and I learn to cook by watching YouTube videos.
I am an art lover and I am blessed with many creative and talented friends who inspire and support me.
What brought you to Seattle, Washington, USA? How long have you been living overseas?
I have been living overseas for 14 years now—10 years in China and four years in Seattle. We moved to Seattle because my mother-in-law had bought us a house here as our wedding gift and my husband has medical insurance which covers the whole family.
Favourite aspect about living in Seattle?
The greenery and beaches. There are three national parks near Seattle – Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. We live in the suburbs, next to Juanita Beach Park, which has a scenic view and is great for walks and picnics.
I love the weather here, the rain doesn’t bother me at all. We are also just a three-hour drive to Canada, which is great for a long weekend.
And the worst part?
How have you and your family been coping in the midst of Covid-19?
My family and I tested positive for Covid-19 at the beginning of the year. My husband bought a Nintendo Switch OLED, delivered the next day, so we spent home isolation playing games.
How do you think parenting in Seattle differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Both our extended families are not in Seattle, so we are basically on our own, and free of all commitments and judgment from our home cultures. I did not breastfeed and I also did not undergo postpartum confinement.
Did you give birth to your child in Seattle? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
I was advised to be induced due to low amniotic fluid, however my appointment was cancelled and delayed for a week because of heavy snow and hospital closure. On the day of my appointment, we had shovelled our driveway and cleared snow off our car, preparing to go to the hospital.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I had some unforgettable experiences in the course of my work. I was the event lead for Prada’s first event in China in 2011. My team and I had worked a full year preparing for the fashion show, gala dinner, and concert afterparty. Meeting the legendary Jean Paul Gaultier for his first show in Beijing was an amazing experience as well. It was also fun planning and executing a full year’s worth of events for the BMW Brand Experience Center in Shanghai.
Another crazy experience was when we had to brainstorm with Wong Kar-wai for an event. He was filming The Grandmaster then. We were picked up by a car at the airport, which drove us halfway, then the police picked us up in a police car to send us to a secret location. It was my first time in a police car!
I am now a SAHM after having Isaac and I love every second of it. My husband encourages me to take some time for myself instead of going back to work. My plan is I’ll get myself enrolled in an illustration course or piano lessons when my son goes to school.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Seattle?
We still eat at the same restaurants before having a child and Isaac eats what we eat. All the restaurants are kid-friendly if I have my phone with me. I’ll give my son my phone or a paper and a pen when he gets restless.
Top five places in or around Seattle you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
KidsQuest Children’s Museum – I admit I’ve never been there but my husband and son go at least three times a month, spending about five hours each time, so it must be good.
Museum of Pop Culture – The exhibitions at MoPOP cover music, video games, movies, and television. Don’t leave without checking out Artists at Play, an artists-created playground right outside the museum.
Bill’s Berry Farm – What’s better than picking berries and enjoying the sun? On festival days, there are farm animals, pony rides, and hayrides! The staff is friendly and helpful too.
Bainbridge Island – Ferry rides are always fun with kids! From Kids Discovery Museum to Fay Bainbridge State Park, the island, with its parks and movie theaters, offers many types of family activities.
Elliott Bay Book Company – They have a fine selection of books for babies and toddlers. The kids’ section even has a castle-shaped reading fort!
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?
We videocall our family back in Singapore almost every day and we plan to visit soon.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Seattle
– for a child:
A Funko Pop! vinyl figure from Funko HQ Retail Store.
– for a mama friend:
Vitamins and supplements from Costco.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Researching everything from schools, and food to hospitals.
On raising multilingual children …
My husband speaks to my son in Mandarin, and I speak to him in English. We’ve bought many Chinese storybooks for him and next year, when my son starts preschool, my husband will teach him (and I) Shanghainese.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
We have yet to visit Singapore as a family due to the pandemic but I know I will buy a lot of my favorite ma ti su pastry snacks. For my son, maybe those quirky t-shirts with Singlish memes.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Salmon cabbage butter steamed rice. It’s easy to cook and it’s delicious.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Seattle if you moved away?
Road trips and hikes.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Eat my favorite bak chor mee.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
I can’t think of anything dreadful, maybe packing and unpacking…
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
I don’t think living overseas is for everyone. You must have a mindset ready to accept new things and adapt to a different environment as well as be open to suggestions and opportunities. We all experience things differently. For me, I had a great career, unforgettable memories, a husband, and a cute baby.