Tag Archives: Moving

Six Months and One Year

I arrived in Germany six months ago. This is significant because six months is generally my benchmark for how I feel being in a new place. In the past, it has taken me six months to adjust, to feel comfortable, to feel like I know how to live wherever I’ve landed. It was like this in Malaysia, in New York, and during both of my stints in Singapore.

Interestingly, it has not been like this here. I’ve been here six months but I’ve felt right about being here for much longer, right in that the world I am living in makes sense to me. It’s been a while since I’ve known this feeling.

Certainly, it took time. July in particular was a rough month, one of those times I expected but for which there is no way to prepare, and my chest tightens just thinking about it. School started in August, which meant I had a purpose and a schedule, responsibilities and things to do. I met some people, started climbing in earnest again, met some more people. I felt and continue to feel incredibly fortunate.

Time moved. The weather changed. Days and weeks found a rhythm, the weather changed again, life took on a new pace. I learned to let go a little, to walk a little more slowly. I have become more comfortable focusing on walking rather than arriving, being rather than doing. Questions that had once been scary seemed not as scary, and the things that keep me awake at night (I’ve never been good at sleeping) have shifted in form and morphed in time.

The first time a friend said, “Welcome back,” I really was glad to be back. That has been true each time since.

If I’m honest, I am surprised and it’s a lovely feeling.

I had hoped for this, even as I tried not to have expectations. It would be nice to rest for a while.

It has been a year since I knew I was moving to a town in Germany that I needed a map to place. A year since the pressure of finding a job morphed into the anxiety of actually moving. A year since almost everyone, laughing with me, asked, “Are you sure? What are you going to do there?” The comment that reassured me was a simple one: “You’re not really a city girl,” a friend said. “You’re a kopi at the hawker girl. You’ll love it.” (I’m not though I’ve tried; I really am; I think I could.)

One year ago, I couldn’t sleep because of all the silly but critical things that ran through my mind once the big things were decided and then immediately put on hold. I was preoccupied with a concern that, once raised, became a focal point, a representation of simple things that become difficult when life changes. How was I supposed to get a driver’s license?

Where do we go for answers in the modern age? Google. And then down the rabbit hole. Past midnight, of course. (My mum always told us that nothing good happens after midnight, which reverberated in my sore head as I opened tab after tab.) I read this page and then this page.* And then I read them again. I sent a panicked message to a friend and kept reading.

The problem is that my driver’s license is from a US state that does not have reciprocity with Germany. At that time, a year ago, I knew the German words that everyone knows (Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen, Danke) and I knew that there was no way, absolutely no way, that I would be able to pass a written driving theory test in German. Now that I’ve been learning German for a year, I’m a lot more optimistic that this would one day be possible. I have also since learned that this test is available in English, though I don’t know whether this is also the case with the practical exam.

Six months is important in the world of foreign driver’s licenses, which brings us to the present. In many countries, including Germany, you are allowed a foreign driving license for six months. (In Malaysia, by contrast, I owned a car and drove on an International Driving Permit for a year.) I haven’t yet driven here, but I did get very, very lucky. In the end, I converted my US license to a Singapore license because I could easily manage a written test (available in Singapore’s four official languages), photocopy, passport photo, and several fees. Singapore has reciprocity with Germany. More copies, official translation, passport photo, more fees. Give up the Singapore license and collect the German license.

Moral of the story: Always look into the process of getting a driver’s license wherever you happen to live, whether or not you plan to drive. You never know when it will come in handy.

Six months and one year later, and my world has taken on a form I haven’t known. An adventure, they say, a journey. It is and it continues to be.

I have often returned to a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist”: Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard. We played it over and over in high school, and it got old to the point where people would leave the room when a certain friend sat down at the piano.

We didn’t know it at the time, but it was right. To live (and this is a verb) a life is not the same as letting life pass by. It is not the same as passively accepting whatever comes because that is what has come. But it is also not about fighting. In many circumstances, though certainly not all, to live is about the attitude and behaviour with which we walk through the world. It is about open-mindedness, curiosity, flexibility, and being part of what exists around us.

Six months and one year later, I can say that it is not easy and sometimes, it really is hard. But I can also say that I am at peace with the choices I have made. This in itself has a been an adventure and continues to be a journey.

*I include the German Way blog not because I get any kickbacks – I do not – but because it was helpful to me and will hopefully be helpful to others.

What I Didn’t Know

I’m surprised at how much I miss it.

I’m surprised at how often it is on my mind, on the tip of my tongue, a marker of how and where I spend my time.

I’m surprised at my own mentions of it (and a little embarrassed) and surprised by how much of it has shaped me.

I didn’t expect it to be everywhere.

I should have known better.

I don’t know how you can just switch things off, he said.
I shrugged. Survival mechanism.

And it is.

I’ve lived a lot.

If I had to guess, I’d say the letters started when I was in middle school and experiencing the first of what I consider my two most significant life transitions. I don’t know if I came up with the idea on my own or if the social worker suggested it, but I have always thought better on paper.

I have written dozens of letters that I will never send, letters that remain hidden away inside dozens of diaries in a box in my parents’ basement. (I’ve always said that one day I’ll burn everything.)

I’ve been thinking back a lot, back to things I should have done with the letters that I wrote. Back to things I wish I’d never lived, never known, never learned, or not in the ways that I did.

I realize now that I could have been angry, had every right to be angry, and making the choice not to be has made me who I am. The funny thing is that I didn’t know it was a choice. What was it again? Oh yes, survival mechanism.

Although it was rather darker and stormier than that.

So I ran.

I ran to, I ran back, I ran away. But you can only run so far and so fast and sooner or later, well, you’re only human, after all.

I don’t think I’m unique in having a complicated relationship with the word “home”. I’ve written about this at length and can summarize with the conclusion that has sustained me for a long time: Home is people, not places.

In this way, there are many places where I might feel at home because there are many places where I have people. In some senses, I’ve gotten used to missing them, both the people and the places. But being used to something doesn’t mean being comfortable with it; doesn’t mean being at peace with it; doesn’t mean it isn’t jarring or surprising, or soft or gentle.

Missing my homes, my people, is all of these things, and it happens all the time.

Having walked this road before, I should have known better. But even if I had, there was nothing else I would have done.

I don’t miss the weather but I miss parts of it: convenience, predictability, ease.

I miss running to the store just under the road at all hours, windows and balcony door open because I could see my apartment from there and I’d be back in a minute.

I miss bike rides on the beach and stopping, soaked, under the palm trees to drink teh halia that was sickly sweet, but not as sweet as the teh halia at the Indian place where they knew my order, chided me for not eating enough, and were worried when I didn’t turn up for a while.

I miss watching the sunset over the nearest temple (remember when they rebuilt it?) while sitting with a group of friends at plastic tables, bottles of beer and empty plates of hawker food all around us.

I miss seeing the clouds fade from their early morning footprints in the sky, miss the turquoise house on the corner as I ride up the canal on the way to school.

I miss familiar faces in the climbing gym, making jokes in the mirror at dance, running into people who I knew in places where I didn’t expect them to be.

I miss meeting friends on train platforms, wandering through neighbourhoods in search of cafés, taking photos, always stopping for something to eat.

I miss our department office full of choice words and laughter, colleagues who became friends. I miss knowing people well enough to know when someone was having a good day or a bad day or when something was, for whatever reason, just going on.

I miss the rhythm of days that were always too long, with rarely enough time to do what had to be done. I miss the camaraderie that, year after year, we built and maintained because that’s what you do when you’ve been somewhere for a while.

I miss tapping on a door, asking for a minute, spending ten or twenty.

I miss knowing where I was and who I was and how it felt to know this about myself.

I spent a long time looking.

Before the school year ended in June and before I left Singapore in July, I knew I was ready to go. And I knew that I wasn’t ready to leave. I missed the Singapore I had known before the pandemic, and I still miss it. But now I miss everything else, too, and everyone.

I didn’t know how much a part of me that world had become, or the people who were and are part of that world.

I didn’t know how much I learned there, how much I grew into myself, how important those years were for the person writing this right now.

Of course, I couldn’t have known.

Maybe if we did know, life would stagnate and we’d grow complacent, unwilling to make waves because they can hurt. Survival mechanism? Maybe.

Maybe, if we did know, we’d never change anything at all.

Most of my letters over the years have been fueled by frightening, intense emotion, but that’s not the case right now. That’s why this isn’t a letter.

Instead it’s a story, a story of the mess my life was and how I tried to rebuild it. It’s a journey in the way that walking a little slower, listening a little harder, loving a little deeper is a journey. A journey of the body, and also of the mind. And in this journey, in the knowing of people and places, perhaps we can also come to know ourselves.

I didn’t expect to miss this home as fully as I do, but that tells me something about myself that I think is worth knowing. And I am grateful for having learned it.

Moving During a Pandemic

This post sat in the back of my mind as I ran through list after list of what I had to do in order to a) move out of Singapore and b) move to Germany. The fact that it all happened during a pandemic meant that I had to be a little more flexible and wait a little longer for things to be finalized on the Germany end, but it was the added uncertainty that taught me the most. (You can skip to the final paragraph now.)

This post aims to bring you a quick and dirty guide to my highly specific circumstance: Moving from Singapore to Germany during a pandemic. Foreigners leaving Singapore or arriving in Germany may also find this helpful. Let me know if you’d like to chat!

Part I: Leaving Singapore

Leaving Singapore is straightforward. There are things that must be done but the order is relatively flexible except for the last step. As a foreigner in Singapore, your employer takes care of everything having to do with the government and you take care of your house and finances.

  1. TAXES: Based on the terms of your contract, your employer will withhold your pay so that they can pay your taxes before the contract ends. You will then receive any remaining pay. You will receive an invoice from IRAS in advance and can alternatively work with your employer to pay the taxes on your own and then collect pay as normal. The important thing is to leave money in your bank account for expenses during that period without pay.
  2. INTERNET (and PHONE and also possibly TV): I had a pay-as-you-go plan so I didn’t have a phone contract to cancel and I’ve never had TV, but I imagine it works similarly to cancelling internet services since it’s all likely the same company. Note the early termination fee, regular termination fee, and required return of any hardware depending on your contract. You can walk into a service centre and give them a specific date to cancel service. You will receive a bill in your normal billing cycle and GIRO will remain activated unless you cancel it. Make sure there is money in the bank. In my case, the bill came three weeks later and was paid through GIRO another three weeks later, which meant I had to watch for the payment to clear.
  3. SP SERVICES: This one is annoying and there is an annoying way to make it possibly less annoying. You can close your SP Services account effective any day online or by phone. They will need to read your meters in order to bill properly. You can submit your own meter readings or wait and let them do what they do. As a default, your account will be automatically closed when someone else puts in an application for SP Services at your address. In my case, a friend took over my apartment and her application for service closed my account. This meant that I waited for the meters to be read and then waited for the final bill, which also included a return of the remainder of everyone’s favourite $500 deposit. Then it gets annoying. SP Services will return the deposit by cheque in the post. Depositing a cheque in Singapore is pretty easy, but it requires a trip to the bank during opening hours. Be careful about the address to which SP Services will send that cheque. Alternatively, you can go to the SP Services centre in Toa Payoh with your meter readings and they can process everything there, including the refund. The catch is that your account will then be terminated.
  4. FIN CARD: I was on an EP and can only speak to that. Your card must be returned to your employer before leaving the country. They will cancel it either after you have left or upon receiving the card, in which case you will receive a letter with 30-day permission to stay. In my case, I returned my FIN the day I flew out and notified my employer upon landing in Germany, at which point they cancelled my card.
  5. BANK ACCOUNT: The only way to close a Singapore bank account is to be physically located in Singapore. (Or to have filled out the form beforehand and sent it to the bank either by post or a trusted friend.) You can’t close a Singapore bank account from overseas, but you can transfer the full balance out of it. Once empty, the bank account will be automatically closed after a certain period of time, according to the employee I spoke to. There might be low balance charges but the only way you’d be expected to pay them is if opening another account with the same bank later on.
  6. EVERYTHING ELSE: Fun planning logistics. It’s all just paperwork and time. See here for an example.

Part II: Moving to Germany

This is where my moving logistics slowed down a lot. Due to Covid, my employer had to plan on two weeks’ quarantine before getting the ball rolling for Germany’s extensive paperwork requirements. Since I did not have to quarantine, I had a lot of time to do whatever could be done without German legal paperwork. In short, not much beyond visiting Ikea and checking out the climbing gym.

  1. APARTMENT: In order to do almost anything in Germany, you need a local address. I live in a university town where housing is hard to come by, so my school recommends taking over an apartment vacated by a teacher who has left. Not everyone took that recommendation and there are a variety of furnished, semi-furnished, and unfurnished flats among us. Be aware that most unfurnished apartments in Germany require you to put in everything from light fixtures to kitchen appliances. I’m told this takes many weeks and I had no interest in doing that, so I took over an apartment with a rare fitted kitchen.
  2. HEALTH CARE: There are a variety of options within the German healthcare system. For the sake of ease, I took what my employer offered as soon as a meeting with the representative was arranged. There’s an emphasis on preventative care here and incentives programs are common. After completing the paperwork, you will receive an insurance card by post.
  3. CITY REGISTRATION PERMIT: Every time you move cities in Germany, you need to register at the city office, which requires proof of local address through your apartment lease and proof of health care registration. You will need an application form and an appointment.
  4. BANK ACCOUNT: Getting a bank account in Germany requires the above steps to have been completed, and a bank account is required for just about everything that follows. Again, it was easier to take my employer’s suggestion than to shop around. For the first time in my life, I’m paying for a bank account, which is apparently normal here.
  5. RESIDENCE AND WORK PERMITS: The application forms are simple enough and these are required to make the appointment at the city office. I filled out the papers and my employer arranged the appointment. Proof of all of the above are required. A temporary work permit will be issued immediately upon approval and you will receive a letter when your residency permit is available for pick up at the office (during the not-so-convenient hours of 9-12 or 1-3 on Thursdays).
  6. PHONE and INTERNET: Options differ based on local area and although I was warned, I was still surprised to learn that German internet is generally slow and it takes forever to set up. A local bank account is required to purchase a SIM card and sign an internet contract. Two years is the standard contract length and I don’t yet know about contract extensions. SIM cards are roughly the same as anywhere else, but setting up internet is a pain because after signing the contract, you need to wait for a letter with the date that the technician will hopefully show up and turn the thing on. My appointment date was three weeks after signing the contract on a day that I couldn’t miss work; it’s a good thing I have nice neighbours.

Part III: Shipment by Sea

If you haven’t already clicked on the link above (also here) and you’re still interested in my move, this is a good time. In terms of sequence of events, this part is out of order as it overlapped the above and had the longest duration.

  1. Get quotes from movers.
  2. Select a mover based on quote.
  3. Work with Singapore-based movers and German school to determine the date I am likely to receive my residency permit. My shipment cannot land in Germany without the residency permit because said permit is required for the shipment to clear customs.
  4. Put together highly specific and itemized price list for insurance.
  5. Organize, pre-pack, pack.
  6. Watch in awe as movers build boxes out of flat sheets of cardboard and pack the rest.
  7. Wait.
  8. Inform German partners of Singapore moving company when residency permit has been approved.
  9. Wait.
  10. Try not to nag German movers.
  11. Receive notification on Monday afternoon for shipment’s delivery Wednesday morning. Not convenient and cannot be changed.
  12. When the movers arrive, make quick decisions about what they should unpack and therefore what packing supplies they will carry away. (Small apartment with no space to spread out and needing to get to work meant that the movers unpacked the furniture and left me with eight large boxes, all containing a ridiculous amount of packing material.)
  13. Unpack as neatly as possible in stages due to lack of floor space in small apartment. This is Germany so there are also no closets or built-ins, meaning everything must have a home before anything else can be unpacked.
  14. Recycle packaging in stages. Recycling is collected every two weeks and there can be no overflow in the two bins provided for the whole house of eight apartments. I put up an ad online to get rid of the boxes and then spent a full hour folding the packing paper into squares. There is still a full Ikea bag of paper squares for the recycling bins to be emptied again.

Phew! If you’ve read this far, I’m impressed and I hope that it was helpful (whether in a move or just passing time). In the event that all I’ve done here is relayed a sequence of events that left you with more questions than answers, there are plenty of comprehensive “how to move” lists available across the internet. Regardless, I thank you for reading.

I will close with a summary of what I learned throughout the months described above: There is no point in fretting over what I cannot control, and there is a lot to be said for realistic expectations. By this I mean, expect that things will go wrong. Expect to be frustrated. Expect to feel misplaced, anxious, worried. And then put those feelings aside once the work is done because that energy is better spent somewhere else.

Weimar, Germany – July 2021