“I appreciate that my son got to enjoy his childhood a bit longer compared to his peers in Singapore.”
This month’s overseas mama Elle Sim, gives us a glimpse of her life in Ontario, Canada with her husband Greg and child Oliver. Elle and her husband chose to move to Canada and they now run a Singaporean restaurant together. When Elle’s son was born she says “my life changed 180 degrees. It became very clear my corporate life was over. I could no longer afford the long hours and the demands of my job because being a mom consumed me – in a good way. This was part of the reason why we wanted to move away from Singapore’s rat race and devote more time to being parents“. When asked how parenting in Canada differs from parenting in Singapore Elle says “I feel parenting is led by the parents rather than the country you live in. Of course, there are forces like the education system and peer pressure but, by and large, parenting stems from the type of people the parents are.” Though she notes that because the curriculum is so relaxed in Canada in the early years, she had the opportunity to expose her son to other areas like theatre and tennis. Read on for her interview where she talks about what she loves about Canada (including having deer in her backyard) and what she misses from Singapore.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a wife to my amazing husband, Greg, and a mum to my darling son, Oliver. I used to be a banker and am now the chef and owner of Lion City Restaurant, a Singaporean restaurant in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
What brought you to Mississauga, Canada? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband and I had discussed the prospect of living overseas for some time. Our view is that life’s too short to be spent in one place so we considered moving to Vancouver as we both have family there. Along the way, Greg coincidentally received an offer to work in Toronto so we packed our bags in two weeks and moved halfway across the world. We later decided to buy a restaurant and now we run it together.
Favourite aspect about living in Mississauga?
Mississauga is part of the Greater Toronto Area, sitting west of Toronto. It is a pretty family-centric city with lots of space, trails, and nature. We are 40 minutes to Toronto’s Downtown Core, one hour from the Niagara Region with gorgeous wineries, farms, and restaurants. It is a cosmopolitan suburb with many different ethnic offerings where we get our weekly biryani runs, Teochew braised duck, shawarma, Cantonese, Greek, Italian… anything and everything!
We love that we live five minutes from our restaurant and five minutes from our son’s school plus there’s a nature trail along a river that is accessible literally from our backyard with deer, foxes, squirrels, and other forest friends!
And the worst part?
It’s getting more and more crowded!
How do you think parenting in Mississauga differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Personally, I feel parenting is led by the parents rather than the city or country you live in. Of course there are forces like the education system and peer pressure but, by and large, parenting stems from the type of people the parents are. Here, I have experienced parenting ranging from tiger mums to relaxed mums so the spectrum does exist.
My style is somewhat in between and I do appreciate that the system here allows for less pressure on the kids. Grades 1 and 2 comprise lots of playing and exploring of the world around them, and things only start to get more serious academically in Grade 3.
I appreciate that my son got to enjoy his childhood a bit longer compared to his peers in Singapore. Here, they also encourage kids to live up to their natural potential whatever that might be. For example, because the curriculum was so relaxed in Grades 1 and 2, we took the opportunity to expose Oliver to theatre and tennis which he enjoys. He now trains four times a week at a tennis academy and is part of a junior troupe at a theatre company
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
When we had Oliver, my life changed 180 degrees. It became very clear my corporate life was over. I could no longer afford the long hours and the demands of my job because being a mom consumed me – in a good way. I really enjoy being a mom and it made me see clearly my priorities in life.
This was part of the reason why we wanted to move away from Singapore’s rat race and devote more time to being parents, roles my husband and I embrace and cherish. Of course, running the restaurant is as demanding as our corporate jobs but as business owners, we get to call the shots and have the freedom to develop workarounds for our family.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Mississauga?
We like to think we raised our son to be “friendly” in all restaurants. We took him everywhere we went so I honestly could not recommend specific kid-friendly restaurants.
Top five places in or around Mississauga you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
Niagara Falls – We cannot get enough of this area. When we first moved here, we had yearly season parking at the falls! It was a thrill considering just months ago, season parking for us was at Marina Bay Financial Centre and it cost many folds more! We would visit the Niagara Region a few times a year be it on our own or with visitors. This is a must-visit attraction when you come to Toronto and it is breathtaking any time of year. From bakeries like RPM Bakehouse, an offshoot of Restaurant Pearl Morissette, ranked No. 4 on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, to Tide & Vine, our favourite seafood restaurant, there are many cafes and restaurants in the area that we love so much. In the summer, there are farms where you can pick your own cherries and then plums and pears later in the year. Last but not least, there is a myriad of wineries, some with restaurants with great food and gorgeous vistas. Make sure you check out Canadian ice wine, made possible by the harsh winters here.
African Lion Safari – This is a drive-through safari and it is wonderful to come up close to the animals. There are many animals at the safari and kids will be thrilled when monkeys climb on the car or when animals cross right in front of the car! There is also an elephant parade and you can watch elephants stroll from their enclosure to the lake for their bath. The cherry on top is an outdoor water park with kiddie slides amid water playgrounds. Definitely a whole day of fun for kids!
Fruit, vegetable, and flower farms – There are strawberries and blueberries to pick in the summer and potatoes (so much fun!), sunflowers, pumpkins, and apples in the fall. Some of our favourite farms are Thames River Melons and Chudleigh’s.
Skiing and snowboarding – We’ve been to Barrie which is an hour away and also Club Med Québec Charlevoix, a nine-hour drive away! Both offer ski lessons. Barrie is more like a local hill with limited runs. Club Med is situated on a mountain facing the St. Lawrence River. Epic views with floating icebergs await!
Lake Ontario – First of all, Lake Ontario is 26 times the size of Singapore so this is a humongous lake. There are so many ways to sail on Lake Ontario depending on where you are and what floats your boat (pun intended). In Toronto, you can go on a pirate adventure for kids or you can sail on a tall ship such as a three-masted schooner right from the harbourfront in the city. You can also opt for a fishing charter from Mississauga. The options are endless! Whatever you choose, it is lovely to be on the water in the summer and if you set sail from Toronto, the city views are beautiful.
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?
We try to go back as often as we can and our Singlish game is strong! We run a Singaporean restaurant so we are in this unique space. Most importantly, he is completely familiar with Singaporean food! We recently went back to Singapore and he loves Singapore so much that he told us he could live there.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Mississauga
Single origin maple syrup. Most commercially available maple syrup is a blend from various producers. Our favourite forest-to-plate maple syrup brand Escuminac sources maple syrup from a single forest in Quebec. From this unique terroir comes a beautiful maple syrup that is velvety, smooth, luxurious, so fragrant, and flavourful. Maple syrups can be used not just on pancakes but in so many recipes from bakes to marinades, dressings, roasts, and cocktails. It’s such a versatile ingredient!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Being away from family and friends you grew up with because it really takes a village to raise a child. The struggle is real trying to build a new village from scratch.
On raising multilingual children …
I think it’s amazing how much they enjoy learning when they have interest and passion. I have always let my child take the lead on what he wants to learn outside school and language is no different. My son picks up languages easily. He learnt French in kindergarten and he sings Spanish and Chinese songs but he has not indicated any interest to learn any languages at the moment.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
Maybe one or two suitcases of snacks I cannot get here. Other than this, we can get everything here so there’s no need to bring anything back!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
It has to be my mum’s ABC soup. It’s our comfort food that can be put together anywhere in the world.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Mississauga if you moved away?
The four seasons. There’s always something to look forward to with each season.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Try and squeeze as much time as we can with family and friends—around food of course.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The heat, car, and property prices. *faint*
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
Living overseas really opened my eyes. Canada is so different from Singapore but at the same time, certain pockets feel so familiar. Living overseas gives you lots of different perspectives and there’s so much to learn! For one, you will learn the good and the bad about both your adopted and birth countries. There is good and bad everywhere! In a nutshell, life is an adventure and it is too short to live in one place your whole life.