Tears in Singapore


They say you’ll cry when you come and you’ll cry when you go, but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll start crying about six months into your stay as you begin to say a series of goodbyes and you’ll never really have dry eyes again.

It’s mass exodus month in Singapore, my least favorite time of year. Some people are returning home, some are moving on to another expat posting and some know they are leaving Singapore, but have no idea where they will go next.

I’m not going to lie, I’m really sad. When I first arrived, I met loads of old timers who were not interested in being my friend. They’d seen so many people come and go and they just didn’t want their hearts broken again. They were polite, gave a nice smile, said the let me know if you need anything perfunctory response to our introduction, but they did not open their hearts to me. I got it. I get it more now.

I opened my heart as wide as it would go, stuck a crow bar in it just in case it tried to self-protect and snap shut and I ventured out to find who my friends would be. I tried to remind myself that I wasn’t looking for a best friend, just the best in a friend. And whoa, Nelly! did I find the best. Somehow I managed to worm my way into the lives of a few old timers anyway and I met plenty of women who had just arrived like me and we all began the long road of getting to know each other. A few hundred lunches, walks, talks and shared experiences later, my life is full of amazing women – many of whom do not know each other. My friendship practice resembles a wagon wheel more than it does a tidy circle of trust.

Friends to exercise with, friends to shop with, friends to travel with, friends to pray with, friends to eat with and even friends to go to the fake, not-nearly-as-good Costco with! My heart and schedule are full and, well, I was recently thinking how I might not want to meet an eager newbie who will throw me off balance with her neediness and incessant questions. Gulp! I’ve become an old timer.

I sat with my friends from ladies’ Bible study last week and we explored the roles of mentors and encouragers in our lives. I thought back to people who had influenced me from the time I was a teenager to those who have walked the tough stuff with me in more recent years and I whispered a prayer of gratitude for them. I looked around the room and saw a few faces that had been my cheering squad when I needed it during my time in Singapore. One of them reminded me about the saying, A friendship isn’t real until you’ve cried together and boy have we had chances to cry together as we’ve prayed for children, husbands, finances, travels, illness and more. That room was filled with encouragers.

Living abroad is a wacky experience – some days I fly so high I can’t believe I am the lucky recipient of this adventure and I fall into bed those nights exhausted and smiling. Other days I burrow under the duvet in my overly air conditioned room and can’t face the world of foreignness, constant change and different-from-homeness for another second. Through those ups and downs, it’s been friendships that have helped balance me out. It’s always been the friendships….

And now SO MANY OF MY FRIENDS ARE MOVING AWAY. And I am deeply excited for their next adventures – some are empty nesting for the first time, some are moving to cool places, learning new languages and readying guest rooms for me to sleep in when I visit, some are finally moving back to their hometowns, to their houses waiting on their cul de sacs with the neighbors who will throw welcome-back-bbqs for them on grills filled with pounds and pounds of meat that didn’t cost a week’s salary.


I’ve attended goodbye parties – pool parties, brunches, coffees, dinners and lunches to say goodbye. I’ve written cards, contributed to group gifts, tried to express my sentiments to each of them and wished them well. And the tiniest, pettiest part of me can’t help but think, “Harrumph. Come August, I’ll be here. Right back here. Car sick in the back of a taxi, sweating through my clothes, chasing groceries and harassing waiters for more ice water, please.”

Deep down I can tell that some of these adorable women who have made an imprint on my heart will be friends for life, and some of them will have been friends while we both lived here. We’ll keep in touch on facebook, but we won’t see each other again. I’m trying to be okay with that. I learned when I moved away from San Francisco – my first move in almost fifteen years – that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take everyone with me. Not everyone has the keep-in-touch gene. And yet, I remind myself, I am okay.

I will draw closer to the friends who are not moving – I have more lunches, brunches, walks and talks ahead of me with those ladies and perhaps a trip or two to plan. As many as I can count heading on to other things, I can count more who will be sticking around. Let’s make some dates, girlies.

And here’s a tricky part: there are new friends I have not met who will arrive here in just a few months. Sure, they will be needy and have a million questions, but won’t they remind me of someone else who came here – sweaty, messy, emotional and lonely – just two years ago? And if I can keep that crow bar in my heart jammed into place a little longer, keep my heart open and searching who is still here? who is my next friend? – well, there’s no telling what my friendships will look like by this time next year.

And for the ladies leaving, I’m letting you go. I learned a long time ago that open palms receive way more gifts and blessings than closed, gripping-so-tightly-til-my-nails-prick-those-palms ever will. Like other things I’ve wanted to cling to – cities, comforts, possessions, communities, I now place these friendships into that palm and hold it as open as my heart – they are free to go without worrying about me, free to embrace their new lives and make room in their hearts for their new friends. Perhaps I’ll be sleeping between the sheets in their guest room next year, or perhaps our time in each other’s hearts was meant to be simply a gift of Singapore. However our stories continue on – of them with me, and me with them and us on our own – our time together has been nothing short of magical.

Now forgive me for sharing aloud my farewells… Au revoir, my Michelle. Thank you for loving me before you met me and letting me just be me around you. Rachelle, you welcomed me into your inner circle without question and thank you to you both for bequeathing Cheryl to me. I promise to take good care of her. Kris, I think you will be popping into Singapore at times next year, right? Yes? Please? Christine, Hong Kong is not so far away so I think I might see you before too long, and Divya we know we can meet up in the Bay Area anytime. Melissa, DC! I go there every summer! Nida, you’ve certainly traveled well during your time in Asia – I’ll miss our movie dates! Kie, I am beyond excited about Taipei – it’s my favorite city! You have a bedroom whenever you need/want to come back and visit! And if Emma and Rachel keep jumping, IASAS track and field will be in Taipei next April! Sarah, you’ve modeled for me the me-I-want-to-be: your hospitality, graciousness, energy and non-judgmental open arms have affected so many of us at St. George’s. You are a true example of using our time wisely. Diana, the UK awaits and I know you are ready for this next step! Ivy, you have to give up your sunrise views and your beloved elephants, but I wonder (with great anticipation) what adventure awaits you back home in the desert? Gayathri, I think our paths might cross in Chatham! Melissa, may you continue to help women discover their strengths in New Jersey and Charlotte, time to conquer Europe! Hannis, I have you for a little longer, yes? Suzy, second Mom to my boy, keep on truckin’.  Your smiley family will keep drawing us to PA. Therese, grace be with you as you transition. May you find the gifts of Seoul quickly; be on the lookout, dear, because they will be waiting for you there. And I will come hunt them down for you if they don’t reveal themselves fast enough, because I need to try bibimbap in its natural habitat.


And of course I am likely to have forgotten a few and that doesn’t mean I will not miss them, just that I am feeble-minded. I will think of you in your new places and I will pray for you and your families as you find your footing in whatever is next.

To all of you who have blessed me with generous friendship and shown me the way to be a welcoming, openhearted Singaporean Expat:

May the Lord bless you and keep you. 
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
(Numbers 6: 24-26)

Fare thee well!

Singapore Joy

13 Comments on “Tears in Singapore”

  1. Gretchen says:


  2. Rebecca says:

    Wow Joy! Your writing is incredible and captures the feelings of so many people who move and transition. You continue to touch and influence the lives of others, what a gift! Can’t believe our paths crossed 9 years ago at the Presidio Sunday School. Thank you, dear friend who will always hold a special place in my heart.

  3. Michelle says:

    I love you.

  4. Charlotte says:

    beautifully written as always and so true xxx

  5. Ivy Seeds says:

    I am known for being the one who, “Keeps in Touch”, or “Travel to see you again”. I will ensure I see you again, stateside or who knows, now with so many Frequent Flyer Points may come over on this side to take a trip with you! Wonderfully written and felt every word. Love you Joybelle!

  6. Marti Sterns says:

    Oh my gosh, Joy… I am feeling your sadness, loss, and fondness and excitement for all these women… I have ALWAYS wanted to tell you that you are a gifted writer… you tell stories or have things to say that engage, enlightened, touch a life… you are amazing. May the next stage of your journey be as exciting as theirs… love you dear girl…xoxo  | Don’t miss the fabulous Spring 2015 Collections!   Book your party NOW! Marti Sterns Your CAbi Fashion Consultant”It is about service, not sales; style and ideas”

    Spring 2015 Collection Preview at www.martisterns.cabionline.comFashion Page at http://www.facebook.com/MartiSternsCAbiConsultant

    * Personal Shopping Available* CAbi Fashion Blog – tips & tools – www.cabicanary.com |

    | |


    From: joylibby To: martisterns@yahoo.com Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 8:01 PM Subject: [New post] Tears in Singapore #yiv8783674063 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8783674063 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8783674063 a.yiv8783674063primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8783674063 a.yiv8783674063primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8783674063 a.yiv8783674063primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8783674063 a.yiv8783674063primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8783674063 WordPress.com | joylibby posted: “They say you’ll cry when you come and you’ll cry when you go, but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll start crying about six months into your stay as you begin to say a series of goodbyes and you’ll never really have dry eyes again.It’s mass e” | |

  7. Charlotte says:

    For the first time since I found out we were moving you brought a tear to my eye!!! I was saving the tears for later: when the madness has settled, the reality has sunk in, and I’m on my own in a new place being the new girl once again. I will miss your smile, energy, faith and positive nature, Joy. I am so glad our paths crossed! Come and visit!!!

  8. Damaris Cianci says:

    In tears right now..beautiful,Joy.
    Hugs to you always.

  9. French, Jan L. says:

    As usual, this is absolutely beautiful, Joy.

    Jan L. French, 3rd-5th grade science teacher
    Cincinnati Country Day School • 6905 Given Road, Cincinnati, OH 45243-2898
    frenchj@countryday.net 513 979-0321

  10. Lois Sowell says:

    Joy that is beautiful and of course I am crying. Love U and miss U.


  11. Karla Cianci says:

    There are so many amazing women out there for you to love, hold and cherish as a your friend. If anyone taught me how to open my heart wide it is you , and dear sister you will do it till the end of time. Feeling your sadness–but thrilled for the new lucky folks to come into your life.

  12. Joy, this is beautiful, and I love your writing! Do you think you have room in your heart for another newbie? I would love to get to know you more. Let’s venture out together sometime,huh?
    Kelly Schmitt
    8526 8661

  13. Kathy says:

    Holy Moly – you have been there for two years already! (funny what jumps out at you) Thank you for sharing the highs and lows of expat life with those of us more stationary. I will be waiting for the full travel novel later! Until then, there is always CAbi…and San Francisco awaits you in all it foggy, I-can-hear-but-not-see-the-fireworks BBQ glory.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s