Expat Canucks on ice: Skating in Singapore

Figure skating costume

Me in costume as a Pink Chiffon Ghost for a figure skating show, circa 1974

Ice skating was a big part of my life as a child. My parents arrived in Canada one sunny afternoon in May more than 40 years ago, and by the time hockey season started in September, they were rabid Toronto Maple Leafs fans. They wanted us to embrace our new culture, so my brother plunged into the fast-paced world of competitive hockey, while I explored my creative side through figure skating. What could be more Canadian?

I’d always assumed that my daughters, too, would know the joys of skating. We enrolled them in lessons when they were just tots, and as I watched them lurch around the ice, I envisioned us gliding down Ottawa’s Rideau Canal together, perhaps stopping for a cup of steaming hot chocolate and a beaver tail before leisurely skating off into the sunset.

Then we moved to Singapore, and life didn’t work out quite like that.

On the Rideau Canal

Skating on the Rideau Canal during Winterlude.

For those who like to keep track of such things, raising children overseas can be viewed from a perspective of gains and losses. The gains include language and intercultural skills, heightened maturity, and the expanded mindset that comes with trying new things. I think it’s fabulous, for example, when expat kids get involved in activities that are completely alien to their home culture. That kind of psychic stretching is what expatriation is all about.

The flip side of the coin — missing out on “typical” experiences that their peers back home take for granted — is a loss; one of the inevitable consequences of expat life.

Now, I’d accepted the fact that my girls only saw their grandparents once a year. I’d come to terms with the certainty that living abroad would rob them of some key cultural markers (a state of affairs that would probably brand them as weird — the cruellest of childhood insults — if and when we returned to Canada for good.) But there was NO WAY my daughters were going to be deprived of their God-given right to skate.

Fortunately, just as I was about to get worked up into a lather about this, the good folks at the Canadian International School stepped into the breach. When the registration form for the CIS Skating Club came home, I (and everyone around me) breathed a huge sigh of relief. Meltdown averted.

For one term every year, the club went to Jurong for weekly skating lessons. In the cramped and crumbling interior of Fuji Ice Palace, it was easy to pick the hockey players out of the crowd. They were the pint-sized Gretzkys who flew around the rink, weaving in and out of the other skaters and spraying ice three feet in the air every time they whooshed to a stop.

Conga line on ice.

Learning to skate in Singapore.

Most of the kids in the skating club were rank beginners, though, and as a volunteer Rink Mom, it was my job to coax them around the lumpy ice while they waited for their lesson to begin. I laced up their skates with their blades held firmly between my knees, just as my dad did with me. I picked them up when they fell, wiped their tears when they cried, and made them laugh when I showed them how to skate backwards by wiggling my backside.

I had a wonderful time. And my transplanted Canucks learned how to skate.

Now, back in the land of Elvis Stojko and Barbara Ann Scott, the girls enjoy going to the rink on a Friday night with their friends. We still haven’t made it to the Rideau Canal, but I know we will someday. I can almost taste the beaver tails.

What activity from your home culture were you determined not to live without as an expat?


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 Expat Canucks on ice: Skating in Singapore

  1. bookjunkie says:

    Loved that picture of you in the pink skating frock…cute!!!

    This post made me wish I had a Canadian childhood too. I only visited a skating rink once and held on to the side bar the whole time. I guess it’s hard to learn as an adult when you can’t even balance on a bike! Since I was a kid I thought skating was one of the most beautiful sports on earth. I love watching professional ice skaters glide and twirl on the ice – it’s mesmerizing and it’s great to know your girls learnt how to skate even in a place where ice melts fast.

    • Maria says:

      My husband had a Canadian childhood and he never learned to skate. I bought him skates for Christmas about 15 years ago and they never made it out of the box — in fact, I’m not even sure where the box is anymore. But I loved skating. Fuji Ice Palace is closed down now, but I think there’s a rink in Kallang if you’re interested in giving it a go.

      • bookjunkie says:

        I am way too chicken…I always feel like I will fall on my face and crack my teeth even though technically is that even possible? I am a total clutz.

      • Maria says:

        Falling on your face is unlikely — your hands will instinctively break your fall. The bigger problem is falling backwards, but that’s why beginners wear helmets. Most rinks also provide metal supports (they look like walkers) that you hold onto and push around the ice, which helps you get the hang of balancing on skates. It’s very intimidating, I know, but like everything else, it’s only hard until it becomes easy!

  2. msleetobe says:

    I can’t skate at all (I have very tiny weak ankles for my 180 cm body, so I’ve never been able to stand properly on skates), but I was actually thinking about the importance of the ice rink in Canadian culture last night. I really do want to give my future children that connection to an essential bit of Canadiana. There’s something about the smell of the arena + particular tempreture + the sound of skates on ice that conjures up nostalgia for my childhood watching local teams and my cousin (played OHL and East Coast Hockey league and then in the US and Europe). So now coming over here and seeing this post has really set my resolve to try to find a way to work this bit of Canada into my future kids lives.

    • Maria says:

      I know what you mean. I love the sound of the blades on ice, and even though I’m not a hockey fan, I absorbed enough Hockey Night in Canada as a kid that the sounds of the game (“He shoots! He scores!”) instantly take me back to my childhood. I want that for my children too, but since they have their own laptops/cell phones/Facebook/Twitter/Messenger/etc., they’re not forced to watch the only tv in the house like I was at that age, and they’ve escaped the lure of their national sport.

      I’m sure there must be plenty of places in Korea where you can skate, especially since Kim Yu-na’s Olympic win. You can always ask Mr. Lee to go along with you — think of it as “couple time”!

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