Notes on Repatriation

3/22/12

Drinking lime juice in a plastic bag. 
Joo Chiat, Singapore. 

It's been a little less than two months since we moved back to San Jose and, to be honest, the settling in process can be summed up in one word: underwhelming. Even our most routine days held some sort of discovery for us while living in Singapore. That's not to say that we are miserable or unhappy here; it's just taking us some time to get used to the predictability and familiarity we once took for granted.

I stripped down to the bare basics of what I needed to live comfortably and happily while I was abroad. Jeff, the dogs, and a little bit of personal belongings. We lived pretty minimally and it was wonderfully liberating. Now we're dealing with "stuff." We've started accumulating things to replace what we got rid of before we left.  I am trying to moderate what we have so we don't get too weighed down with things. The biggest purchase so far has been a car, which we need. California is big.

As familiar as my hometown might be, I'm trying to approach it with a fresh perspective. I am curious about the places I used to drive past and not give a second thought to. I have a lot of exploring and rediscovering to do, like how I used to do in Singapore. The entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley runs rampant and as a result, there are lots of things for San Joseans to experience. (I'm hoping this will give me more to blog about, too.)

Sunset in Half Moon Bay.

Here are a bunch of other assorted observations I've made since returning to California:

-Gas is expensive. I remember it being a little more than $3 a gallon before we left. Now it's over $4 a gallon.

-Alcohol is cheap. I have to do a double-take when I see the prices for beer and wine sometimes. I can buy a good bottle of red wine for about what a glass of wine would cost me in Singapore.

-Customer service is great just about everywhere, usually. Waiters and waitresses are observant and polite; sales associates are knowledgeable and usually know how to solve a problem. I have yet to encounter the "cannot compute" attitude of customer service in Singapore.

-Businesses have websites that are actually helpful, not just Facebook pages (if that). And while we're on the subject of businesses, people actually answer the phone with "Name of business, how can I help you?" instead of a confused "Hello?"

-Fresh produce is a beautiful thing. A lot of the stuff sold in our grocery store's produce department is grown a few hours away in the Central Valley. The fruits and veggies I buy are fresh, flavorful, and not individually wrapped in plastic. Avocados are our biggest indulgence lately.

-I can find pants and shoes that actually fit. I found a style of jeans I liked so much that I bought three pairs of them.

-People are so friendly! This has probably been my most favorite observation since I moved back. I have had great chats with people in my building's elevator, at coffee shops, and at hockey games. Even runners on the street will manage to huff out a "hello" as they pass me by. Sometimes, eye contact and a smile are all it takes to make my day.

I read somewhere that it takes about a year to fully repatriate to one's country of origin. Readjusting definitely isn't happening overnight, but I hope it doesn't take as long as a year. With expatriation came a lot of external changes, the most obvious being moving abroad and living somewhere completely new. But as I'm repatriating, I'm realizing that the changes are taking place from within. It's frustrating and emotional at times, but I know I'll be a better person because of it. 

16 comments:

  1. I'm originally from Singapore and I'd moved to Australia when I was 17. So when I moved back to Singapore for a couple years to work and be with family, it took A LONG TIME to get used to life there. I absolutely agree with all your points... Singaporeans are good at some things, but customer service isn't one of them. I definitely missed the friendliness of Aussies while I was back 'home'. I did eventually move back to Australia but now I live in the States (my husband's from CT) and that took a lot of adjustment too.

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  2. Isn't it kind of funny that whole repatriation thing? I think from time to time it can be more challenging then the actual expatriation. It took me a while to fit back to "normal" life in Germany after living in California and Singapore... not so much when I lived in Switzerland. Will see how it goes returning to Europe after the (planned) 4 years in Australia!! And you are so right, most of the time the only thing that really changed is yourself! Looking forward to explore San Jose and all the rest of California through your eyes!!

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    1. I'm looking forward to seeing Australia through your eyes, too.

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  3. Beautiful sunset. I like the simplicity of your current layout too.

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  4. Great post! I miss good customer service and it is so true they always answer the phone with a confused "hello" and I always have to make sure I have called the right place :P
    It must be nice having a car again, more freedom to explore.
    Hope you're are settling back in ok :)

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  5. Very nice post. It is odd to me the various customer service failings in singapore. The confused hellos are great fun (unless they are annoying - because you are tired usually...). I don't so much want to car to explore, but California offers many great places to explore - and for that a car is nice.

    I do think you gain so much while you live abroad that comes back with you at home. You can learn that what seems so necessary really isn't. You can also learn to appreciate some things you didn't realize were quite so awesome until you missed them.

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    1. I totally agree with you, John. A friend just sent me the following quote in response to this blog post:

      "The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."
      — Hans Hofmann

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  6. Lovely post and although the customer service and lack of decent websites here is very obvious to me I'd not really thought about how all businesses just answer with a 'hello' but it is so true. Guess I must have got used to it, even though I worked somewhere previously where we had to answer the phone within five rings and with the name of our section, our name etc. - heaven help us if we didn't and got caught or someone complained!

    Even though we go back to the UK pretty regularly (and even that is strange sometimes) I can't really imagine what it would be like to go back and know it's for good. I hope when it happens it will make me appreciate all the things I just took for granted beforehand even if it does take some adjusting.

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    1. It sounds cliche, but my horizons have definitely widened and what I am reevaluating what I once considered "normal." I definitely have found myself appreciating the things I took for granted.

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  7. I decided not to repatriate. I became a 'white Singaporean' with a red IC :) People still don't believe it...

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  8. I yearn for nature and good customer service. Fresh produce and clothes that are not all xs or x would be wonderful. Loving your California photos.

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  9. Thanks for writing this. I have always feared that repatriation would be the hardest part of my current journey - but you've reminded me of the great things I can look forward to also! Great customer service, friendly passers by, clothes shopping... Yes, everything has its positives and negatives!

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    1. It definitely has been the hardest part thus far, but also the most rewarding because I am starting to see how I've changed. Things will get better and easier! And hey, there's always some good shopping to be had when times are rough. =)

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  10. Ahhh! amazing I also feel thirsty and want this lemon juice :). I think this is really good post.

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  11. I truly don't get companies who only have FB pages. In general, I don't want to interact with companies on social networking sites... they are a service I use, not a friend I want to keep up with up! No offense to them, of course!

    I'm looking forward to some yummy local produce too. Jealous of your local avocados though... so jealous.

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