We talk to KARIN GALLEY, who’s been a Singapore expat for over 30 years. And a Singapore PR for 27 of them! She was born and grew up in Southern Germany and has actually worked for Expat Living for a whopping 18 years. We thought it was such a good story, we had to share it.
What brought you to Singapore?
A sense of wanting a real adventure. My then husband had just finished his PhD when he was offered a job at a research institute in Singapore. I said yes immediately! We had been to Southeast Asia and Singapore before, so we knew that we would love it. In September 1990, off we went – two suitcases was all we brought along.
How different was Singapore then from now?
It was a very different place back in 1990. It was the time when Lee Kuan Yew was still Prime Minister, Changi Airport had only one operational terminal, the Fullerton Hotel building was a post office, Orchard Road had a row of quaint terrace houses, every working adult had a pager, and you had to take a ferry to Sentosa as there was no other link! One of the biggest attractions in Singapore was an A&W fast food restaurant on a boat… Buses were not air-conditioned, alfresco dining places were rare, and the most popular nightspot was a place called Anywhere in Tanglin Shopping Centre with the most amazing live band. Ah, the nostalgia!
Did you expect to stay long term? What were your plans?
The initial plan was for three years. The day we left for the airport my mum said to me, “I have a strong feeling you won’t come back.” I laughed it off, assuring her that we would be back in Germany three years later. It took only a few weeks for me to start feeling right at home in Singapore. The “pull factor” was paramount. I was even more reassured when a feng shui master told me that Singapore was a perfect match for me and that it would ground me and balance my energies.
When did you have your children here?
The first few years were much about work; I was in the advertising industry, working as an MD for an international media agency. The hours were very long; 12-to-15-hour working days were pretty much the norm. I totally loved my job, but my biological clock started ticking loud and clear and I kept wondering how to reconcile it all.
My daughter Elena was born in 1997, and my son Jonathan followed in 2000. Nothing made me ever feel as fulfilled or happier as motherhood. A couple of years later, I decided to change careers so I would have a bit more time to look after the children. This is when I joined Expat Living.
How long have you been a Permanent Resident in Singapore – PR, and how did you feel about National Service for your son?
I’ve been a Singapore PR for 27 years. When the children were born, there was no question in our minds that they should become PRs too; their roots were here and this was home. Jonathan always knew that NS was expected from him if he wanted to continue to make Singapore his home. He enjoyed so many privileges growing up here and understood that they come with a responsibility. His NS journey was nothing but positive.
Overall, I feel NS is just what you make out of it. If boys go in with a positive mindset and are ready to challenge themselves in ways they never have before, they can make some very rewarding and valuable experiences.
Where are they now?
My daughter lives in Amsterdam and is about to finish her master’s degree. She wants to continue living in the Netherlands for a few more years. My son started his first year of university in London last autumn. I’m still getting used to having the nest all to myself – it’s a new life phase, and while it took me some time to adjust, I fully embrace it now. A chapter has ended but another has begun.
Have you bought property here? When and where, and was it a good decision or not?
I bought a place 10 years ago, right after my separation. It’s a lovely ground floor apartment in Upper Bukit Timah with a little garden. It seemed a good idea then to buy rather than rent as I could use my CPF towards the financing of the property. Admittedly, I got a bit nervous when property prices started declining a couple of years later. In the meantime, I have come to realise that there is no wrong time to buy a home as long as the holding period is long enough. So, yes, it was a good decision. One of the added benefits is that I have the best landlord in the world!
Some of Karin’s Favourites
Favourite things to do in Singapore I adore Singapore’s greenery – I love the nature reserves and the park connectors. Spending time outdoors surrounded by tropical foliage gives me an incredible energy boost. The recently completed Rail Corridor has become my favourite walk. I can walk from my home all the way to Holland Village in less than two hours, which makes for a perfect Sunday morning activity followed by breakfast at Baker & Cook.
Favourite travel destinations or hotels Bali never loses its charm and is definitely my happy place. I can’t wait to be going back once we can travel again. Other memorable trips have included Kanchanaburi in Thailand, Hoi An in Vietnam, Sri Lanka’s south coast, Uluru in Australia, Boracay in the Philippines and some house-building trips to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Our thoughts are with those in the region who are suffering so much loss due to the lack of tourism – let’s all keep wishing!
Favourite things about living in Singapore The weather! I’m probably one of the few people who is never fussed by the heat and humidity. Also, the rich cultural tapestry, the perfect blend of East meets West, the people you get to meet… There is so much natural beauty here, and there’s always something going on. It’s been a love affair for more than three decades now and I have no inclination to end it anytime soon
Do you have a long-term expat story to tell? Get in touch at email@example.com. Rebecca spoke a bit about moving to Singapore in 1998 in a recent BritCham podcast – find it at britcham.org.sg.
This article first appeared in the August 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
We have a great guide to International Schools in Singapore as well as the different neighbourhoods here.