We are seeing a rising trend in trailing husbands who have given up their jobs to follow their working wives to Asia. Kevin Cox is one of them, and he says it’s the best thing he ever did.
When Kevin gave up his job as a lawyer to move here from the US with his wife Lisa and their two children, Oliver (9) and Cooper (7), he decided to become a stay-at-home dad, and to chase his dream of becoming a writer.
“While I was working as a lawyer, I wrote eight (unpublished) books, including children’s fiction, but I never dared to dream that I could make it my career,” says Kevin.
The inspiration to follow his passion came from our very own photographer (and speaker of wise words), Bud Hayman. The two men and their wives had been friends for years, and after Bud moved here as a trailing spouse two years ago he had some advice for his old buddy back in the States: “If ever there was a place that allowed you to do what you love, this is that place.”
So, when Lisa was offered the job of Vice-President of Human Resources for Johnson & Johnson in Singapore, they jumped at the chance and moved here in June 2009. They haven’t looked back, and while Lisa is away on business trips Kevin is more than happy to keep the home fires burning.
Makansutra and Mentoring
Kevin has immersed himself in the local culture, focusing on the melting pot of flavours found within the steamy wonderland of Singapore’s hawker stalls. The result has been the combining of his two greatest passions: food culture and writing, and his articles regularly feature in the Singapore American Magazine. Fortunately, he is able to share his work with his boys, who often accompany their dad on foodie outings.
“That’s my boy!” proudly exclaims Kevin, who is overjoyed when Oliver – despite his tender years – shows a taste for the exotic.
Kevin’s palate appears admirably adventurous, and I’m willing to bet he’s tried some pretty outrageous stuff. I’m not wrong. His most unusual meal, he says, was during a trip to Buenos Aires, when he and a companion ordered the innocuous-sounding tripe. A bad idea, as it turned out, when a steaming plate of boiled intestines complete with contents arrived.
“We were basically eating s**t! The locals thought it was hilarious,” recalls Kevin with a laugh, then reveals his diehard motto: “Eat until you are afraid!”
The conversation soon turns to our favourite local dishes and we both agree that soup tulang is a magnificent “die die must try” experience. This bright red, spicy soup is simmered for hours with mutton or beef bones filled with succulent marrow. Often, it is served with a straw for sucking out the fatty goodness. Trust me when I say that it tastes much better than it sounds.
When Kevin isn’t out on the trail of the next best dish or recording his discoveries in the couple’s joint office (with built-in matching desks), he is inspiring young minds at the Overseas Family School, where both of his sons are students. He is the pioneer of a weekly creative writing class there, which he teaches during the children’s lunch-breaks. His inspirational classes have become so popular that the school intends including them in its after-school enrichment curriculum.
“Twenty-seven kids have already signed up,” says Kevin, beaming.
The six-bedroom rented home is one of only eight units at Seven Nassim Condominium; each has its own private lift lobby. Despite being only a hundred metres from Orchard Road, it is tranquil and private, and Kevin says that they have never had to share the swimming pool with any of their neighbours.
“We love the fact that we are so close to Orchard and yet surrounded by so much greenery,” he adds.
A major selling point for Lisa was the large dressing room, which the couple share. Kevin says it is bigger than some New York apartments, which barely have room to swing a cat. The family’s sleek black feline pet, Noche, shoots us a baleful glare and makes a hasty exit.
The décor is what Kevin and Lisa call world-eclectic. “Which is another way of saying that nothing matches,” Kevin adds with a laugh. But the collection of developing-world artefacts from Peru, India, Indonesia, Africa and beyond work together to create a beautiful interior, because the pieces are linked by their earthy qualities. The couple’s passion for ethnic design goes back a long way: Kevin spent four years in Kenya as a child, while Lisa spent much of her childhood with her Peruvian family in South America.
Paying homage to his African past, Kevin has hung a couple of stunning black and white portrait photographs in the living room, both of which were taken in Kenya by his late mother, who was a photographer and anthropologist. Next to them are some portraits by Vietnamese photographer Tri Huu Luu, which were bought from the John Erdos Gallery. “His works are the only ones ever to have reminded me of my mother’s,” he says.
Wooden It Be Nice
Just Anthony and John Erdos are two of Kevin and Lisa’s favourite furniture stores. One Erdos piece in particular catches my eye: an enormous Indonesian rice-bed with beautiful carvings, which now serves as a stunning coffee table. It opens up to reveal a cavernous space where rice would once have been stored. The owner would have slept on top of the box to prevent his rice from being pilfered.
With such large rooms to fill, the process of furnishing them is an ongoing project. Against nearly every wall there is a cabinet of some sort: a distressed Rajasthani unit from Originals, which serves as the drinks cabinet; shelves crafted from an old Indian doorway bought from Wood Farm; an original Chinese cabinet from Just Anthony, which creaks with age when opened and releases an intoxicating scent of ancient dynasties.
In one corner of the living room, Kevin points out a four-foot sculpture of the Buddha. “I think that moving here unleashed our repressed Buddhist tendencies,” he says, and I reassure him that this is common among expats.
Climbing Into Bed
The master bed deserves a section heading all to itself. This gargantuan piece, made from padded rattan and imported from the US, is almost as tall as I am. Although I am only five feet four inches tall, this is quite extraordinary for a bed.
It’s known as the Kilimanjaro bed, and I imagine that getting into it might require three weeks of hard training, some crampons and an oxygen mask. I wonder silently if Kevin and Lisa stuck a flag into the pillow the first time they made the ascent.
“Has either of you ever fallen out of it?” I ask, my mouth agape.
“Yes, Lisa did once, but she was okay,” replies Kevin.
Expat Husbands’ Club
It turns out that there are quite a few trailing males in Singapore.
“You should start a club,” I suggest to Kevin and Bud. “There are enough of us,” replies Kevin, “but other than Bud, I don’t seem to have much in common with them. They all seem obsessed with triathlons and keeping fit, and that’s not really my style!”
“When it comes to furniture shopping my favourite is Just Anthony(379 Upper Paya Lebar Road), where you can get into some really good negotiating. We are also big fans of John Erdos(7A and 7B Dempsey Road). When the store moved to Dempsey we thought that it might lose its magic, but it hasn’t. We also like Wood Farm Lifestyle(Block 13, #01-03 Dempsey Road), Originals(7 Lock Road, Gillman Village), and Teak & Mahogany (100E Pasir Panjang Road, #07-02 Century Warehouse) for outdoor furniture.
“We get our basic food from Fairprice orGiant, and our fresh meat and produce from wet markets– primarily Tekkaor Tiong Bahru. They are much cheaper than the supermarkets and the food is excellent. For the best vegetables in town go and see Victor Chia at Tekka Market – to find him all you have to do is listen for the American music!
“My favourite places to eat out are hawker stalls or local restaurants and Tiong Bahru has some of the best. Sin Hoi Sai, for example, has incredible coffee ribs and Por Keehas amazing champagne ribs and cereal prawns. Melbourne Melben Seafoodin Toa Payoh is also great. The best place to eat soup tulang is at the Golden Mile Food Centreat a stall called Haji Kadir. Anthony Bourdain ate there once and loved it!”