Continuing our semi-regular feature on expat families who have been living in Singapore for many years, we meet a household of Seletar Camp stalwarts. CHRISTINA VYE tells us about their home, their neighbours and their lifestyle in the old black and whites at Seletar.
Who lives here: “Christina, Kieran, Charlie (Charlotte) (17) and Kiara (12) Vye, Cris (our home manager who has been with us for over 12 years), and our dog Marley (4) and Milly the cat (10).”
Where are you from originally, and when did you come to Singapore?
I’m from Papakura, New Zealand, and Kieran is from Teddington in London. I moved here from New Zealand in 1996. Working as an Immigration Officer at the New Zealand High Commission kept me very busy with frequent travels to Sri Lanka and Jordan, and I quickly found a wonderful group of friends, both within the New Zealand community and outside.
You met Kieran here; what brought him to Singapore?
We met through mutual friends. In 1996, the marketing agency Kieran was working for in London won a global account that needed him to be based in Singapore so he jumped at the chance.
How long have you been living at Seletar, and why did you choose a black-and-white as your home?
When our eldest daughter Charlie was born, we were living in Bedok in a four-storey townhouse with a tiny outdoor space. In 2005, when she was still a toddler, we visited friends at their black and white house at Seletar Camp and immediately fell in love with the place. The vibrant, welcoming community, the diverse nature, the sheer size of the open space, the quiet and quaint country roads for cycling, running and exploring; and, of course, the bungalows with proper gardens and no staircases were all enticing.
We added our name on the bungalow waiting list and Premas (the management company then) rang us after a couple of days with details of a house ready for rent. We signed up on the spot – even before we saw the interior. We were so excited and didn’t want to lose the opportunity of a lifetime.
Was it a good decision?
We’re still in that same house 16 years later! The black-and-white bungalows are so flexible to modern living and a growing family. Over the years, it has been adapted to our family’s needs – most recently, of course, turning the spare bedroom (which was originally the dining room) into a comfortable office for the two of us to work from home, as well as a music studio for the girls. The experiences the black-and-whites have lived through and their solid construction give us a sense of responsibility for caring for an important part of Singapore’s history. The Camp is a calm oasis – the bustling city life is beyond the gates.
Our neighbours have become best friends – the kids have all grown up together and shared a lifetime of experiences together at the Camp. Even as toddlers, they yo-yo’d from house to house in complete safety, and Friday nights became the weekly “Seletar Playgroups” when each family took it in turn to host end-of-week gatherings. The Sunset Bar, which is owned by Jerry (of “Jerry’s BBQ & Grill” fame), was a great spot for Saturday drinks – and the hottest chicken wings on the island! The kids’ playground was the airport runway, being careful not to get in the way of any taxiing small planes!
Any negative experiences?
We did have a scare six years ago when tenancy policies changed, forcing each black-and-white home to be put back on the market for open bidding after ten years of continual lease – even though the house was still a home and had been cared for and maintained by the tenant. Unfortunately, ours was one of very few that this policy impacted before it was quickly changed back, and we had to do a blind bid to stay in the house that had become so much more than a home. Fortunately, our bid was the highest (only just!) of six families who wanted to live in this wonderful spot. The policy didn’t please anyone in the end, and it was revoked; we were one of only a few families who went through the experience.
It was also incredibly painful living here in 2008 when we watched the bulldozers demolishing acres of beautiful 1920s and 1930s buildings to make way for Seletar Aerospace and the extended airport; a number of our friends had to leave their homes – fortunately, all of them have returned.
Do you still love it?
The community is still here – the kids are now teenagers who hang out at the various houses for “darts and pool evenings”, though we parents still gather for the Friday night “playgroups”! (In normal times).
The nature is still here, too, though the new fast roads surrounding the Camp means we see fewer land animals such as wild boars, though the new Hampstead Gardens has become a birders’ paradise.
We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in Singapore; it’s a magical place to live – the history, the well-designed tropical houses and the space (which we were extremely grateful for during lockdown). There are very few places in Singapore to live where you see no other buildings from your terrace.
You have two daughters now; were they born in Singapore?
Yes, at Thomson Medical Centre, under the brilliant guidance of Dr Paul Tseng from TLC Gynaecology Practice.
How did you choose their current school?
When UWCSEA East opened up, our girls joined the majority of kids from the Camp to go there after spending the first couple of years at AIS. It’s a wonderful school and they have both flourished academically and sports-wise, and they have great friends. We can’t rate it highly enough.
You now have an amazing career; tell us a bit about what you do.
I’m very privileged to be a Partner in one of the Big 4 professional services firms. I oversee a brilliant Singapore team and am very fortunate to lead our global practice. I’m still working in immigration and in a role that gives me such purpose – and never more than in a year like this one!
I love being in a role where I can make a difference to people’s lives and help them navigate through a pretty stressful time, even without a global pandemic in play. Since the start of COVID, I’ve been able to help friends and friends-of-friends navigate through this crazy period of border closures and strategize with them about the best possible plan for them and their families. I haven’t been able to get away from COVID discussions over the last year – professionally or personally – but I hope I have played a small part in helping ease people’s anxieties.
And Kieran’s role?
He’s in advertising and marketing. In 2003, Kieran joined a colleague from Carlson Marketing Group, the agency that brought them here, to set up their own advertising agency, Band, which is now part of Dentsu.
Did you ever imagine living in Singapore for such a long time? What has it given you as far as life lessons and different perspectives go?
Growing up in London, Kieran had a yearning to live in the sun. So, when the opportunity came to work internationally, he grabbed it with both hands. For me, missing family in New Zealand and not being part of their lives day to day has been hard. Thank goodness for the technology that exists today. Back in the 90s, I brought a fax machine with us and it was the main form of communication – how things have changed!
It’s amazing, 25 years down the line, that we’ve raised a family in the tropics surrounded by our fabulous friends who have become like family over the years, and to share the experience of living in Singapore and its surroundings with friends and family when they come to visit.
We’ve also been very fortunate to build our dream home in Queenstown, New Zealand, which is one of the most magical places on the planet. It’s food for the soul – the contrast to our city life in Singapore. As we managed the build remotely, we opted to work with Kris and Susan at Teak & Mahogany here in Singapore to furnish our NZ home. They were brilliant in designing and making all our furniture, from beds to sideboards and sofas, and even our bar, and then arranging the 40- foot container to ship it all across.
After the Circuit Breaker lifted last year, I was inspired to start growing my own herbs after seeing our next door neighbour Zara’s efforts with her composting, herb garden and Aerospring hydroponics. I have enjoyed it so much that I’m now the proud owner of two units from Nadine at Aerospring and I love spending time in my garden. It’s been a very welcome distraction from the crazy world of immigration.
What advice would you give to newcomers moving here?
Embrace change, and be open to the wonderful experiences Singapore has to offer. The island may be small but there is so much to explore and experience – the people, food, diversity of cultures, acceptance of others and the chance to meet amazing people who will become lifelong friends.
Christina and Kieran’s Recommendations
“Leslie and all the ladies at the NZ Flyers Netball Club” sportready.sg/adult-netball
“The fabulous Colin Low, the best Pilates teacher” pilates.com.sg
“Young Ladies Football at the Chelsea Football Club” chelseafc.com/en/foundation/ soccer-schools “Wonderful sailing holidays on the Merdeka” spaboat.com
“The Colbar, our family favourite” 9A Whitchurch Road “Cherylynne and her beautiful To Be Calm products” tobecalm.com
“Tracey, our amazing coach in our bi-weekly SwimSanity sessions” SwimSanity Singapore @ facebook.com
“Lianne at Expat Hair Studio East Coast for a brilliant colour and cut” expathairstudio.com
“Kris at Teak & Mahogany” teakandmahogany.com “Nadine at Aerospring” aerospringgardens.com
“Tumbleweed Composter from Geraldine at Organic Origins” organicorigins.com.sg
“10 The Terrace, our holiday home in Queenstown, New Zealand” nzsothebysrealty.com/luxuryrentals/property/QBS12169
This article first appeared in the June 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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