My home is full of expat memories

My home is full of expat memories

We bought this Chinese wedding cabinet — and the carpet beneath it — in Singapore.

“One of my friends told me once she loved coming to my house because ‘expat’ houses were always more interesting than local houses. The multi-cultural, eclectic (OK haphazard) furnishing style of many of our homes becomes our signature design – and tis one I am very comfortable with.”

When I read these words from yesterday’s post on the Great Expatations blog, my eyes were drawn immediately to my living room, which I can easily see from my usual perch in the dining room office. Like the rest of my house, the living room is not so much decorated as thrown together in a mishmash of styles. This is partly because Chef Boyardee and I are not very good at the interior design thing, and partly because most of our stuff was bought in different countries.

Carving from Bali

This Balinese carving is of Rama and Sita from the Hindi epic Ramayana.

When the time came to pack up our shipping container for Singapore, we took a look around our house and realized that pretty much everything we owned was crap. (With two small children, buying nice things had felt too much like asking for trouble.) It didn’t seem worth the effort to ship this depressing array of hand-me-downs and low-end IKEA furniture to the other side of the globe. We ended up sending a small shipment — consisting mostly of toys — and starting from scratch once we arrived.

Because Chef Boyardee moved to Singapore two months before us, he was tasked with getting the basics in place. For the first week he slept on a cheapo mattress from IKEA. (And believe me, I’m not knocking IKEA in this post. It saved our bacon more than once. When we moved into our house in France, our shipment was delayed because of — what else? — a strike. We slept on IKEA mattresses, ate off IKEA dishes, and made endless cups of tea in an IKEA kettle until our container arrived. I ♥ IKEA.)

Buying furniture in Singapore

This Tibetan cabinet got the thumbs down from me. He bought it anyway.

Chef Boyardee would email me photos of things while he was shopping, and I’d give him the virtual thumbs up or thumbs down. He did a pretty good job, and once my jetlag had worn off, we filled in the gaps together. Shopping — usually an abhorrent chore for both of us — became a sort of cross-cultural adventure. We trolled the teak shops along Dempsey Road, sorted the wheat from the chaff at Lim’s in Holland Village, and developed an obsession for a store named Barang Barang (it means “stuff” in Malay) in Tanglin Mall.

Australian didgeridoos

Elder Daughter made the didgeridoo on the left. The other is from Sydney.

The rest came from our travels. I tend not to buy souvenirs as such (t-shirts and tchotchkes don’t really do it for me) but I always like to have a little something to remember the experience by. The older I get, the more I need these visual prompts to get the memories flowing.

So, back to my Canadian living room on this grey and dreary day in November. It’s decorated with things from Singapore, Canada, Indonesia, Scotland, Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam, France, Australia, Cuba, China, Japan, and Korea. (Today I can also include Pakistan, because Elder Daughter has left her pashmina, a gift from a former boyfriend, draped over the couch.)

My dad would refer to this hodgepodge as “a bit Heinz 57.” Marie from Great Expatations calls it “eclectic” and “multi-cultural.” I have a friend who tactfully describes it as “fusion.” To me, it’s a reflection of the countries I’ve had the good fortune to visit; all the places I was happy, made friends, nurtured my family, learned, and evolved. In this room, I feel as though I’m finally home.


About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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6 Responses to My home is full of expat memories

  1. Judy says:

    I much prefer the eclectic look. I’ve seen too many expat living rooms where you walk in and say to yourself “Hong Kong” or”Africa.” Mix and match is much more interesting as you know each piece tells a story and prompts a happy memory.

    • Maria says:

      I like eclectic too; the overall effect is greater than the sum its parts. That said, my daughter thinks our house looks “too Asian.” But hey, who asked her? 🙂

  2. Mental Climax says:

    i would love to have these things on my room. these make me feel a part of something.

  3. mariecbrice says:

    Actually I think Ikea is a great balancer for all the other Barang Barang – it is simple enough not to violently clash with all the reds from China, skulls and bright Mexican colors and the simplistic yet classic Japanese pieces. That didge is a bit tricky to coordinate tho… (is it full of visitor’s saliva?).

    • Maria says:

      I was horrified when my husband told me he planned on buying a didgeridoo in Australia. It’s lovely when played by someone who knows how. He doesn’t. Now I’m glad he bought it, because the colours remind me of a previous visit to Alice Springs.

      Ikea is a godsend to expats and students. But skulls, Marie? Is there something I should know?

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