Overseas Singaporean Mama Claudine Chan reflects on trading the bright lights of pop stardom with Cherry Chocolate Candy for life as a Stay-at-Home-Mom in Edinburgh, Scotland
It’s been years since Claudine Chan traded the spotlights and glitz of show business for the challenges of being a full-time mother and trailing spouse. Now based in Edinburgh, Scotland to be closer to her husband’s family, she has found a supportive community of parents and grown to love the Christmas season in Edinburgh. Read on for tips on how this overseas Singaporean mama successfully packed fresh durian on her most recent flight from Singapore to Edinburgh!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Claudine, my husband John is Scottish and we have a wee boy in primary school in Edinburgh. I had lived in Singapore all my life until I got married eight years ago. I’ve been on the move ever since! I think the term for this is ‘trailing spouse’ but far from just trailing, I’ve discovered it takes a lot of grounding to be able to live this sort of life.
I used to be a stickler for control but I’ve had to throw that out the window and learn to adapt … to different cultures, language, customs and just simple everyday behaviour. It’s challenging but in a good way.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I was in show business in Singapore. It was very exciting, a little crazy and a lot of hard work. I’d started out whilst still at university, first as a dancer then I went into theatre and TV work before eventually becoming part of a successful girl band called Cherry Chocolate Candy. After all those years in the spotlight, I decided to hang up my costumes and move into show production and training of young artistes. The hours were irregular but it was rewarding and mostly fun.
Post-baby, I’m now a stay at home mum (SAHM). Becoming a parent in my 40s, I was ready to take it on full time, I didn’t want to stay in show business and was lucky that I didn’t need to work. It means we are free to move with my husband’s job and that has brought us some exciting and challenging experiences. I learn something new every day, and that is important to me.
What brought you to Edinburgh, Scotland? How long have you been living overseas?
We moved to Edinburgh to be near my husband’s family and have been here since August 2018. Due to the nature of my husband’s job, we have been moving countries every two years. Edinburgh is our fourth move in seven years.
Favourite aspect about living in Edinburgh?
Walking. Edinburgh is a beautiful, compact city which makes walking very pleasant when it’s not raining.
And the worst part?
Probably my least favourite part would be the dark winter nights. It’s amazing how the lack of sunlight affects one’s mood. I’ve been told to load up on Vitamin D and get light bulbs that simulate daylight. I’m hoping this will keep the winter blues away, haha.
Your most recent purchase
… for your child?
New running shoes. Every Sunday, my son has been doing junior parkruns, a series of 2-kilometre runs for children around the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is a nice little community activity run by volunteers and a great way for kids and families to keep active.
Heattech top from Uniqlo. I’ve just tried them and I have to say I’m totally sold. They certainly live up to their promise.
How do you think parenting in Edinburgh differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
If you don’t have family nearby that can help you, parenting can be quite lonely wherever you are. In Singapore and Dubai, it is easy to carry on with your social life because domestic help is affordable and readily available. Here in Edinburgh, I appreciate how neighbours and friends have stepped in and formed a community of parents to help one another. I share school runs with neighbours, we help one another with babysitting, and organise sleepovers so we can get some adult time sans kids. It is all working out quite nicely.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Edinburgh?
Fazenda, a Brazilian churrascaria where they bring out skewers of grilled meat and serve them at your table. It’s a proper meat feast! Kids love the novelty and the constant bustle keeps them entertained. Also kids can eat for under GBP 8. That’s definitely a winner!
Top five places in or around Edinburgh you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why:
- Edinburgh Castle: I love that Edinburgh Castle sits atop an extinct volcano, in the centre of town and you can get a good view of it from so many points around the city. It defines the Edinburgh skyline and has so much history. Be sure to catch the firing of the One o’clock Gun, which happens every day except Sundays.
- The Royal Mile: A mile-long cobblestoned road connecting Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, lined with tourist shops selling all things “Scottish”. It’s fun — you can pick up some souvenirs, go to a pub for a pint and you can definitely count on hearing bagpipes played by a piper dressed in a kilt. Perfect photo op!
- Arthur’s Seat: Definitely worth the trek up to see a 360-degree view of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and beyond. It’s easy enough even with young kids, just make sure to wear proper covered walking shoes and check the weather forecast before you go.
- The Kelpies: These are magnificent 30 metre-high horse head sculptures by Glasgow-based artist Andy Scott, found in Falkirk, about a 40-minute drive from Edinburgh. You can also combine a visit to the Kelpies with a walk along the canals and play time in the outdoor playground in Helix Park. If you have older kids, you can also take them to the nearby Falkirk Wheel and take a ride on the rotating boat lift which is an example of pretty amazing engineering.
- The Potter Trail: If you’ve read the Harry Potter books and liked the series, you will love this. It takes you to the places such as the street that is Edinburgh’s real-life Diagon Alley, the school that inspired Hogwarts, and you will get to see the tombstone that led J.K. Rowling to name her character Tom Riddle.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
For long-haul flights, bring your own kid-sized headphones that you know will fit so young ones can watch in-flight movies comfortably, or bring your own tablet to keep your kids occupied. Always have snacks handy but I’m pretty sure every parent knows that already.
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?
My family is still in Singapore so we visit every summer for at least a month. It’s a chance to spend time with loved ones, rediscover Singapore and eat, eat, eat! What I do try to do is to celebrate Chinese New Year every year even if we are not in Singapore. I put up decorations, prepare reunion dinner with my own version of improvised yu sheng, and even make traditional goodies like pineapple tarts!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
I would say the hardest part is not having my family near me . It’s something we take for granted in Singapore because the country is small and everyone is just so close by. We have family in Scotland but they’re not a stone’s throw away, more like a few hours’ drive on a good day.
On raising multilingual children …
It’s difficult because I am not effectively bilingual so our language at home is English. I do insist on Saturday morning Chinese lessons and there is Chinese homework through the week which makes for a good opportunity to converse in Mandarin. I also insist on Mandarin-only Netflix cartoons on weekdays. We recently had a parent-teacher meeting at the primary school and the teachers said that our wee boy has been sharing with his class that he takes Chinese classes and is being very positive about the experience. That has been the best feedback so far.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
It has to be food. Bak kwa and otah are always on the top of the list. Sambal belacan for me. These are foods that are uniquely Singaporean so I don’t find them in the Chinese supermarkets here. My last trip back I packed durian in my suitcase!
The durian seller did a good job packing it, there was a lot of cling film and a liberal scattering of ground coffee between the layers of cling film. When I arrived home in Edinburgh, I just popped it into the freezer then thaw it when I want to eat it. Ace! The durian doesn’t last very long in our household though and I can’t keep hubby away from it either.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Get your brows done. It saves so much time, it seems unreal. Now anyone reading this is going to be staring at my brows hahaha.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family:
I don’t really have a particular one. I make bak kut teh and fish soup noodles when we want a taste of home. Slow-cooked lamb shanks are always a hit. I do like to try new things and some of what I cook happens because we can’t easily find authentic versions here. Most recently, I’ve been making my own sushi because we have very fresh seafood in Scotland.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Edinburgh if you moved away?
Hmm… I think I would probably miss the Christmas season in Scotland. I’m a big fan of all things Christmas and there is just something wonderfully magical about the season here and Edinburgh goes to great lengths to make it really special. It’s especially great if you have young kids, the Christmas market is a must do. There are also some fantastic Santa experiences around Edinburgh like the Santa Steam Train and Christmas festivities at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. If it snows then all the better!
Thanks for talking with us, Claudine! Click below to read about other overseas Singaporean mamas:
Kelpies image via The Helix Falkirk; all other images by Claudine Chan