Singaporean Sandy Chong lives in Dubai with her British husband and toddler. Here she gets candid about her shotgun wedding when she found out she was pregnant, what she misses about Singapore and the struggles of parenting
What’s it like living abroad and being a parent to a 17-month-old with an essential worker husband during Covid? Sandy Chong spills all. She also shares what she loves and hates most about living in Dubai, how she had to have a shotgun wedding when she found out she was pregnant, and the mixed feelings she has of parenting without much help – the struggles versus the freedom to be able to parent the ways she wants.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Singapore. My mum is Thai but she and my dad are divorced, so I grew up with my dad. I have a younger brother and a stepsister. It is quite a complicated family but that story is for another day. I’m married and I live in Dubai now. I have a 17-month-old and I’m a stay-at-home mum. I’ve worked for more than 10 years but this is definitely the toughest job I’ve ever had.
What brought you to Dubai, UAE? How long have you been living overseas?
I came to Dubai on a solo trip and loved it. So I decided to drop everything in Singapore and move to Dubai in December 2017. I found a job, met my British husband and here I am!
Favourite aspect about living in Dubai?
I don’t mean to sound like an alcoholic, but the party scene here is great and there is sunshine here every day!
And the worst part?
I think that there is a lot of discrimination in the workplace here. As an Asian, I feel my salary will always be lower than that of a white person doing the same job.
What are the current restrictions in Dubai due to Covid-19?
Everything pretty much goes on as normal. It is just obligatory to wear a mask when you’re out and if you dine out, there can only be a maximum of seven persons per table. There are still more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases in the UAE each day, but people here are all starting to be more relaxed because measures were really strict the last year and everyone was almost losing it.
How have you and your family been coping in the midst of Covid-19?
My husband works in hospitality so when his salary was reduced, it was quite a struggle for us at the start. But lockdown happened just months after I gave birth, so it was kind of a win-win situation as I had an extra pair of hands at home with a newborn. It only lasted for two weeks though, as he is considered an essential worker. So he has been back to work since, working on food deliveries.
How do you think parenting in Dubai differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
If I were in Singapore, I’m very sure I would go back to work immediately after giving birth, knowing I have family and friends who could help take care of the baby for me. But in Dubai, it’s a struggle as I’m alone. I know nothing about babies and Google is my best friend. Despite the distance between us, my dad still somewhat helps me with parenting. I send him photos and he tells me if I’m doing something right or wrong so I quite like this freedom in the way I parent. For example, my baby eats everything, literally anything. My dad’s approach would be to put chilli on things that she shouldn’t consume while I let her eat whatever as long as it gives me peace. In Singapore, I probably wouldn’t have as much say in parenting and would end up having to include other people’s opinions as well.
Did you give birth to your child in Dubai? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Yes, I gave birth to my baby in Dubai. The only memorable experience was the actual moment my daughter was born. I didn’t have really good insurance coverage here so it wasn’t a “wow” experience when compared to people who give birth in good hospitals.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Before having a baby, I worked as an assistant manager in a cafe. When I found out I was pregnant, we flew to Seychelles to get married as it is illegal to be pregnant here without being married. I know it sounds bad but I truly enjoyed it. I wanted a small wedding ceremony anyway, it was just sad that our families were not there to witness it.
I worked up till my seventh month of pregnancy before my former company fired me for some silly reasons. I felt very helpless and was very upset. The company then reassured me that I would still have my job back after my maternity break but here I am, I’ve been a stay-at-home mum ever since. I’m looking to go back to work though.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Dubai?
For non-alcoholic venues, Baker’s Kitchen in Dubai Marina is the best for toddlers. You can eat while they run around in a closed area so you don’t have to worry. For a restaurant that serves alcohol, I would say anywhere by the beach. Let the kids play in the sand, get some sun, while parents can chill and have a drink. It’s win-win!
Top five places in or around Dubai you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why
- Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark – It is equipped with splash pads, pools and there are a lot of things to do for both kids and adults. There is even an aquarium in the hotel.
- XPark Jr. – I definitely enjoyed going there! With playgrounds, ducks and chickens running around and a petting zoo with goats and horses, what more can you ask for?
- Splash ‘n’ Party – A water park just for kids with no deep pools and no adult pools. They have few branches around Dubai catering to different age groups. I let my little one run wild there while I get some sun tanning in. Older kids should go to the branch at Jumeirah Beach Residence. It is on the beach and there is a bouncy castle.
- The Green Planet – It’s an indoor rainforest with birds flying freely around!
- Grand Hyatt Dubai – Perfect hotel to stay at with kids. The service is amazing, the food is great, the prices not too expensive and there are water parks and lots of activities for kids!
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with her Singaporean roots?
I speak to her in Mandarin sometimes and when we do video calls with my dad, he speaks in Singlish with phrases like aiyo, sayang and some Hokkien.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Dubai
– For a child:
A Dubai Police car set because the police force here is probably the only one in the world with luxury supercars in its police car fleet.
– For a mama friend:
I would say makeup and local delicacies like camel milk chocolate and dates or electronic gadgets as they are a lot cheaper here!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Having no help at all. I can’t believe we are both still alive after 17 months!
On raising multilingual children…
Living in Dubai, the only times I speak Mandarin are when I’m video calling my dad. So it is still difficult for me to find the right time to speak in different languages to my child.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
I haven’t flown back to Singapore in a while but I will want to bring back food items like bak kut teh spice packs and pandan extract so I can make Singaporean dishes here.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
I’m embarrassed to answer this, as I’ve never cooked before I had a baby. All I can say is the air fryer is my best friend right now.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Dubai if you moved away?
Ladies’ nights! Almost every bar here has a ladies’ night where women can drink for free. And of course, the friends I’ve made here along the way and the endless sunshine.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
After meeting my family and friends, eating popiah and Hokkien mee comes a close second.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The humid weather. I hate it.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
Living overseas helps you become more open-minded.
Thank you for your time, Sandy!
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