Singaporean Vivian Quah-Hindsgaul talks about life in Tommerup, Denmark with her Danish husband and her 2.5-year-old daughter
Singaporean Vivian Quah-Hindsgaul moved to Tommerup, in Denmark two years ago with her Danish husband and young daughter. Vivian shares about her life living abroad – how she learnt Danish (through her husband’s uncle whom she dearly misses) and how she wishes she could make some friends (she has no family nor friends nearby). Vivian says “I think that in Singapore, there is this misguided idea that you need to have a lot of money to be a good parent…(while in Denmark) a good day of parenting would be walking outside, playing in the sandpit, hopping in rain puddles… whatever my child wants to do with me. I appreciate the chance I have to be a present mother in Tommerup.” Read on for her full interview!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My idea of a good life is one that is heavily peppered with spontaneous days. It could be boarding the bus with no plans and a few fruits or booking the cheapest accommodation for a couple of days, bringing the bicycle along and seeing what happens. I find that the important things still get done even when I make no plans. They just get done with intention and without the endless chatter in my head. I value gentleness, patience and vulnerability. I feel it probably shows.
What brought you to Tommerup, Denmark? How long have you been living overseas?
I first set foot in Tommerup in 2018. That was when I met my husband’s good-natured uncle. Helge was a bachelor living alone in an enormous house. We spent a great amount of time with him while we were in Europe, partly because I twisted my ankle in Prague, Czech Republic. Helge only spoke Danish. He gave me Danish lessons and I wrote down every last sentence along with their meanings and pronunciations. My earlier experience learning Italian gave me the confidence that I needed to learn Danish. When the day came for Helge to send us off to the airport at 5am, I gave him a big, long goodbye hug.
If you count my seven-month-long travels, I have been living overseas for three years and seven months. After travelling the world, I spent two months in Malaysia with my mom then 10 months in Australia before we moved to Denmark. I have been in Tommerup for two years now.
Favourite aspect about living in Tommerup?
Having Helge around, I think. Growing up, my parents did not actively “make a home” for my sister and me. We shared the same roof over our heads but the intention of being together was missing. With Helge, it felt like he enjoyed my presence as much as I did his. He took me to my favourite places—the art museum and the beach—even though they were not his cup of tea. No matter the season, Helge was always thinking of us. Even if it was just watching TV, it was something that we did together. Being around Helge and making dinner with him would always be my favourite memories in Tommerup.
And the worst part?
Living without Helge. He died in June 2021, one month short of his 81st birthday. Whenever I make something delicious, my little girl still asks if Helge would be joining us for dinner. “Helge, come, eat this”, she says. His warm presence is dearly missed.
What are the current restrictions in Tommerup due to Covid-19?
As of November 2021, it is again compulsory to wear masks at the supermarket and on public transport. In order to dine in at restaurants or go to the library, we need to present a “corona pass” or a negative coronavirus test result. The latter is valid for 72 hours.
How have you and your family been coping in the midst of Covid-19?
We mostly stay home and hardly socialise with other people. When the pandemic first hit, I remember thinking to myself, “People are losing their minds.” But it feels like our lives haven’t changed that much.
Most people have family, friends and jobs. Amazing to have but I don’t have any of them, not in Denmark. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why I started making YouTube videos… out of a desire for human connection. I wish that people would quickly find my videos so I could make friends again. I also write a lot, to process my thoughts and feelings. I meditate and carve out time to do nothing. These are great ways to cope, pandemic or not.
How do you think parenting in Tommerup differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Well, there is no “one-size-fits-all” way of parenting that is specific to geography. But there is nature here, less traffic, seasons, no high-rise buildings and no helpers or nannies.
I think that in Singapore, there is this misguided idea that you need to have a lot of money to be a good parent—money to pay for novel experiences, new toys and clothing and money to outsource your child to tennis, piano, art and math teachers. It seems to be what parents strive for.
A good day of parenting in Tommerup would be walking outside, going to the playground, playing in the sandpit, hopping in rain puddles, colouring together in a colouring book, singing, dancing, making dinner, painting… whatever my child wants to do with me. I appreciate the chance I have to be a present mother in Tommerup.
Did you give birth to your child in Tommerup? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
No, I gave birth in Australia. I breathed through childbirth, sinking into the pain instead of resisting it. My meditation practice made labour a breeze. I gave birth in the hospital while standing up in the shower. My husband was so amazed that I handled the pain so well. No screaming.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
My current visas in Australia and Denmark do not allow me to work. The only formal work that I did as an university student was a short stint with the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore, as a teaching intern. I gave it my all, which made for a deeply rewarding experience. I studied design at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and used my passion for hand-lettering to start a wedding invitation business. I failed spectacularly. It was around that time my mother moved out, leaving me to shoulder her responsibilities.
I dropped out of National Technological University (NTU) halfway through my studies. Ironically, it was the combination of my History and English Literature readings that led me to question the effectiveness of the university workload. I started questioning the lifestyle that university was priming me for.
I mourned the loss of my potential career when we first returned to Denmark two years ago. For a long time, I held on to the idea of being a “productive member of society”, as if a job would somehow make me a whole person. I am over that now. I am at the tail end of getting my Danish spousal visa so it might not be long before I find a job. But I do want to continue writing my blog posts and making videos every week. We will see what happens.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Tommerup?
That’s easy because there is only one restaurant in Tommerup! It is a pizza and kebab place. My husband says they make the worst pizza. I would not recommend it after trying it twice. I can make a better pizza and kebab.
Top five places in or around Tommerup you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why.
Between Tommerup and Tommerup Stationsby – having a fun picnic at one of the two picnic benches by the forest between Tommerup and Tommerup Stationsby in the summer.
Kirkebjergsøerne – Taking a walk around the beautiful lake there.
Tommerup Skole – Jumping in puddles at the school after the rain after school hours.
Røde Kors Tommerup – This Red Cross thrift shop has a charming children’s section, equipped with colouring pencils, heaps of toys and a child-sized table and chairs. It is every child’s delight! Mission Afrika Genbrug Tommerup is another great thrift shop too.
Appevej – I like to cycle and jog here because the countryside views are simply amazing. If you are lucky, the horses will be there too.
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with her Singaporean roots?
I used to feel an enormous pressure to expose my child to Singaporean food and culture. I felt like I owed it to her. This is the reason why I have a whole drawer in the kitchen full of Asian ingredients like mung beans, plum sauce, dried chilli, tapioca starch and glutinous rice flour. I even have ang ku kueh moulds. I also have banana leaves and wonton wrappers in the freezer.
I speak to my child in Mandarin often enough for her to understand “刷牙” (brush teeth), “洗脸” (wash face), “坐好来” (sit properly), “关门” (close the door) and “好吃吗?” (does it taste good?). She also knows how to sing 两只老虎 (Two Tigers), 一闪一闪亮晶晶 (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and 拔萝卜 (Harvesting Carrot).
Best souvenir one could bring back from Tommerup
– for a child:
Brunsviger! It is a yeasted bread-like cake topped with a delicious butter and brown sugar mixture and it can only be found on Fyn, the third-largest island of Denmark, where Tommerup is located.
– for a mama friend:
Flødeboller. These chocolate-coated marshmallow domes come in a box of five or more. They come in different flavours too, so take your pick. You can find both brunsviger and flødeboller in the local SuperBrugsen supermarket.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Not having friends and family around to be part of my child’s life. It is not that bad but it would be nice if I could see my friends once in a while, in the flesh.
On raising multilingual children …
I speak English, Mandarin and Danish to my child, who is nearly 2.5 years old, on a daily basis. I think I speak more Danish to her than her Danish father does. He loves English.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
Kuih bahulu, pandan cake, bak kwa, pork floss and xiang pian tea.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
I have quite a few but I especially love my honey lemon and parsley brussel sprouts with rice and chickpeas.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Tommerup if you moved away?
Helge’s large backyard. We have a pergola where we spent many summer nights barbecuing sausages, corn, potatoes and marshmallows. My child’s sandpit is not far away. I would especially miss working out in the backyard—lying on my yoga mat and looking up at the sky.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Catch up with my sister over some delicious food.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The crowd. I am forever grateful that I no longer live in a city.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
Learning that the Singaporean way of life is not the only way to live.